THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Collection Care blog

Behind the scenes with our conservators and scientists

Introduction

Discover how we care for the British Library’s Collections by following our expert team of conservators and scientists. We take you behind the scenes into the Centre for Conservation and the Scientific Research Lab to share some of the projects we are working on. Read more

22 August 2016

Hidden horoscopes and puzzling predictions in Papyrus 98

Why would certain passages from an ancient horoscope and related predictions be smudged and partially erased? This is what researchers are currently trying to determine using multi-spectral images recently captured of Papyrus 98.

Glass enclosure of Papyrus 98

Papyrus 98 (British Library Pap. XCVIII).

The British Library holds over 3000 papyri, along with several thousand unframed fragments. Western Heritage Collections cares for our Greek and Latin papyri, while papyri in other languages are found in our Asian and African Collections. The papyri collections are sequentially numbered running from Papyrus 1 – Papyrus 3136 with a separate sequence of 37 items forming the Egerton Papyri collection.

Papyrus 98 underwent multi-spectral imaging to improve legibility on some partially erased and smudged passages. Papyrus 98 is housed in a glass enclosure with inscriptions visible on both the recto and verso. The original collector was most interested in the Funeral Oration of Hyperides over Leosthenes and his comrades in the Lamian war [BC 323] which was placed in the recto position at the front of the glass frame. This partially imperfect Greek text is thought to date to the 1st century BC with the greater portion of the oration in fourteen columns. However, it has since been discovered that it is on the verso of the current housing where the oldest and first text was inscribed on the papyrus.

MSI of Papyrus 98

Above: Due to the long profile, multi-spectral imaging of Papyrus 98 was achieved by imaging the manuscript in sections and digitally stitching the images together.

On this 'verso' side is an astrological treatise consisting of three and three-quarter columns of a Greek language horoscope partially in small uncial characters similar to those of Hyperides. This is followed by an Egyptian language set of predictions relating to the horoscope written in cursive handwriting in what is referred to as 'the Old Coptic Script'. The Papyrus 98 manuscript showcases the earliest example of this Old Coptic Script.

The overall majority of the Greek text in this manuscript is in excellent condition, with the exception of the partially erased sections at the bottom of column III and IV which precede the lines in which the Egyptian language section begins. Other areas of faded or partially rubbed out sections were also identified and hoped to be recovered with multi-spectral imaging.

MSI images

Top: Infra-red image of Papyrus 98 showing uncial Greek in the left column and cursive Egyptian (Old Coptic Script) in the right column. Bottom: A composite colour ultra-violet image of Papyrus 98.

Researchers are still going through the results trying to figure out why these particular passages were erased and what was, or is, the significance of the obscured text. While the raw images have provided some clarity in certain areas, there are several algorithms which will be run on the data set to isolate and enhance the blurred regions. This is just one of many projects that our conservation team are working on to aid scholarly research and enable further access through digital means.

Colour space analysis

Left: Original image showing fragmented sections of Papyrus 98. Right: Colour space analysis showing the same region in pseudo-colour.

A small number of British Library papyri have been digitised in full and can be viewed on Digitised Manuscripts. Further information about published papyri can be found on the Trismegistos database. More about this collection item can be found on the Explore Archives and Manuscripts resource, while further information about our Greek and Latin papyri collections can be found here.

Dr Christina Duffy

 

27 May 2016

Washing badly degraded silk flags from the India Office collections

Royal East India Volunteer Colours - PDP/F.1068 and PDP/F.1068

 

The fragmentary silk was sandwiched between Reemay® 19gsm for support and filtration purposes during wet cleaning. The Reemay® was kept in place during drying which encouraged the flags to dry perfectly flat.

Washing was a great success with a lot of help from other British Library conservation team members and textile conservators Mika Takami and Eveliina Ojanne from Hampton Court Palace.

IndiaOfficeFlag

Vania Assis - IDP, Eveliina Ojanne - HRP, Mika Takami - HRP and Anna Espanol Costa - Hebraic digitisation programme

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator

05 May 2016

Fragments in bindings

The conservation process is always a very special time for the item under repair. It is a time during which normally concealed elements of the object are exposed offering a unique opportunity to understand the processes involved in the making of the item. This is even more apparent when conserving books. Books are complex three dimensional objects and for this reason the conservator’s decision-making process can be extremely challenging.

The following examples show how important it is to record every step in the conservation process and to be able to discuss findings made along the way with other experts. This enables us to fully understand and consequently be able to retain and share the information uncovered during all stages of the work. For the past three years I have been working as Manager of the Conservation Studio for the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. I have worked with a rich and heterogeneous variety of library material ranging from archival files to ancient scientific Arabic Manuscripts. This material has been arriving on our benches for digitisation preparation and for more extensive conservation.

A group of sixteen manuscripts was identified as being relevant for the Qatar Digital Library Portal during scoping for the second phase of the project. This portal is where our project team upload digitised material. The sixteen manuscripts are a small fraction of the so called Delhi Collection; a vast collection of more than 2,900 manuscripts held here at the British Library. The manuscripts are written in various languages and historically thought to have come from the Royal Mughal Library in Delhi.

The manuscripts are in very poor condition and housed in conservation boxes. The books were transported from Delhi to Calcutta and faced many perils on their journey to the India Office Library in London. They were eventually transferred to their current home here at the British Library, but have never been conserved. This is quite a unique situation since in the past few centuries vast campaigns of restoration and re-binding have irremediably transformed much of our library collections. During these campaigns original bindings were often removed. This resulted in a loss of historical evidence relating to the use and provenance of the volumes.

The subject of this piece is the recent conservation work carried out on two of these manuscripts to enable their imminent digitisation.

Figure 1

Left: Delhi Arabic 1902. Right: Delhi Arabic 1937B.

These manuscripts contain collections of mathematical treatises dating possibly to the XIX and have been heavily damaged by insects and centuries of use and abuse. The treatments conservators apply to items of historical value should always follow a series of ethical guidelines that standardise our profession. Those guidelines are based on one main principle called ‘minimal approach’. ‘Minimal’ doesn't mean less time doing the work or small in the sense of the amount of money spent for the treatment; ‘minimal’ refers to minimal intervention.

The conservator must work with great attention to detail ensuring that historically relevant physical features in the binding, sewing and substrate remain intact and undisrupted. Our work in the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Conservation studio is primarily preparation for digitisation. This means we focus on making items fit for withstanding the imaging process. This is both to ensure safe handling of the object and to enable the creation of a good quality surrogate.

Books are very challenging items to reproduce digitally and are often tightly bound. Each page needs to be carefully photographed and the text needs to be entirely visible and legible. The aim of a good quality online surrogate is to give users a truthful virtual experience of the item in its entirety, that is, in the case of bound volumes, much more than the mere text written on its pages.

Delhi Arabic 1902 and 1937B required conservation work because they were too fragile to be safely handled. It would have been impossible to achieve full legibility due to the poor state of their pages. Pages laced with insect holes were repaired with very thin toned Japanese tissue paper and the weak sewing of the book block was reinforced. Every piece of the book structure such as the remnants of the threads used to create the end bands or the sewing of the book-block were supported and secured where they were originally.

Figure 2

Damage due to insect infestation of Ms Delhi Arabic 1902.

Figure 3

Reinforced areas along the edges of the pages.

The leather covers proved to be a completely different challenge on their own. As soon as they were closely examined it became clear that the boards for both the books were created with layers of reused manuscript fragments.

Figure 4

Inside the detached cover of Ms Delhi Arabic 1902 with evidence of the reused manuscript fragments.

The layers constituting the boards in manuscript Delhi Arabic 1902 were already delaminating and the adhesive used to stick them together was failing. During discussions with the curators it was decided to completely separate the layers forming the boards and to not re-use the leather cover any more due to its fragility.

Each layer of the newly found manuscript was easily lifted with the help of a spatula before re-housing in Melinex folders. Numbering was applied to each envelope recording the sequence of the original layering, and subsequently all envelopes were housed in two separate four flap folders to identify the left from the right board. The writing style and content of these manuscript fragments is currently under study and has not yet been identified. It will add interesting information about Delhi Arabic 1902 and help to date the cover and possibly to identify the geographical area where it was made.

Figure 5

Layers of manuscript fragments are easily lifted and housed in Melinex numbered envelopes.

New conservation boards were prepared and inserted into the now “empty” leather cover. A piece of Plastazote was cut to size and used as a substitute for the now removed book-block in order to hold the leather. The leather cover was wrapped in Melinex to protect it during future handling.

Figure 6

The leather cover with the transparent Melinex wrap and the Plastazote support.

A new light board limp cover was created for the book-block after all the pages had been repaired and the sewing reinforced.

Figure 7

Book block with new limp paper cover.

The now separated parts of the manuscript were housed together in a drop back spine box made to size.

Figure 8

All the separated parts of the manuscripts are housed together in the box.

The cover of the second manuscript, Delhi Arabic 1937B, also showed evidence of fragments (from possibly the same manuscript) used to make its boards, but in this case a different method was devised for the overall conservation of the book.

Figure 9

Heavily damaged cover of Ms Delhi Arabic 1937B.

Figure 10

Fragment of reused manuscript used to reinforce the board of MS Delhi Arabic 1937B.

In this case only one layer, on both of the boards, transpired to be made of reused written paper. For this reason it was decided that the boards and the cover, also detached and delaminating, would not have to be dismantled. Instead they would be imaged and later re-composed to be re-attached, as originally was, with the book-block.

Figure 11

Right (front) and left (back) boards of the fully restored binding.

The losses of leather on the spine and on the edges of the boards were filled with new goat archival leather and all the fragments of the old leather and the decorated paper were re-adhered where they were originally. Interesting features were in this way preserved for posterity, for example the covering leather that was applied to the spine, along the edges, and on the corners of the boards in thinly pared pieces retained its overlapping appearance.

Figure 12

Details from the spine and one of the corners clearly showing different pieces of leather overlapping.

Small remnants of strips of blue decorative paper were consolidated and adhered along the perimeters of the decorative marbled paper.

Figure 13

The arrows indicate small remnants of decorative blue paper strips that were originally forming a frame, now overlapping the decorated marbled central piece.

Our meticulous method of working enables us to provide scholars who are interested in all aspects of the volume, not just the content, with as much information as possible. This attention to detail potentially protects clues to a past we can only imagine.

Flavio Marzo