Panorama of Historic Inks: From Antiquity to the Middle Ages

With Ira Rabin

Our research aims primarily at recreating a socio-geographic history of inks, parchment, and papyrus and includes the comparative analysis of the writing materials of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ink and papyrus in Ancient and Hellenistic Egypt, and inks in documents from various contemporary medieval communities in Fustat (first nucleus of Cairo) as well as other medieval Jewish and Armenian communities. To this aim we developed a protocol for ink analysis. It consists of a primary screening to determine the type of the ink, and a subsequent in-depth analysis using several spectroscopic techniques. One of them, X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) aims primarily at establishing the fingerprints of inks containing metals, making it possible to distinguish among different inks. 

The presentation shows the panorama of historic inks and our attempt to follow up the transition of the inks from those based on soot to the iron-gall inks commonly used in the Middle Age.

Ira Rabin

Ira Rabin studied chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Between 1979 and 1983 she worked as a student and later as a staff member of the Conservation Department of the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL), with specialization paper and parchment conservation. In 1983, she returned to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to continue her studies in physical chemistry. In 1987 she moved to Berlin, where she obtained a PhD degree in physical chemistry at the Max-Planck-Society in collaboration with the Free University. Until 2003 she worked in basic research in cluster physics in the Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max-Planck-Society and continued her research on parchment but as a hobby. Since 2003 her main research interest has been dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Between 2005 - 2007 she worked in Israel as a scientific advisor for the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jewish National Library. 2007 - 2010 she coordinated the international Qumran project. Currently besides conducting research dedicated to re-construction of the history of black writing inks she is working towards including ink composition into codicological studies.