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Materials analysis of Ethiopian manuscripts

Since the 4th century A.D., the cultural identity of the Ethiopian people has been strongly tied to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For over sixteen centuries a scribal community has thrived in Ethiopia and reproduced religious doctrine that consisted not only of bible passages, but reflect the art and record important communal activities of the people and nobility. Today, scribes still produce manuscripts in Addis Ababa and elsewhere, and are thus passing the knowledge of the production of religious texts to the next generation. Due to political turmoil and economic instability in Ethiopia, many of the country’s objects of cultural heritage, including a number of religious manuscripts, have been exported and re-sold at auction.

manuscript collage

Inks and paints consist of color (pigments) and a binding agent. By comparing the inks and paints in the Walter Codex with traditional materials thought to be used by Ethiopian scribes, the inked passages and illuminations may be authenticated and possibly dated. Due to the chemical complexity of inks and paints, multiple analytical techniques are required for complete analysis. Prior scientific studies of Ethiopian Orthodox art focused on icons – manuscripts have not been previously studied.

This outreach work is in partnership with Dr. Stephen Delamarter at George Fox University and is partially funded by the NSF.

Outcomes from this work include presentations at the 2010 AAAS Pacific Division conference in Ashland, OR, the 2011 AAAS National meeting in Washington, D.C.  Graduate student Natasja Swartz was awarded an AAAS travel fellowship from her presentation at the local division conference which enabled her to travel to the national meeting.