Thousands of painstakingly handwritten books produced in medieval Europe still exist today, but scholars have long struggled with questions about when and where the majority of these works originated. Now a researcher from North Carolina State University is using modern advances in genetics to develop techniques that will shed light on the origins of these important cultural artifacts.

Many medieval manuscripts were written on parchment made from animal skin, and NC State Assistant Professor of English Timothy Stinson is working to perfect techniques for extracting and analyzing the DNA contained in these skins with the long-term goal of creating a genetic database that can be used to determine when and where a manuscript was written.

Once Stinson has created a baseline of DNA markers with known dates and localities, he can take samples from manuscripts of unknown origin. Stinson can then determine what degree of relationship there is between the animals whose skins were used in manuscripts of unknown origin and those used in the baseline manuscripts.