Occam’s shaving kit

Now researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Exeter and York have found that, of 477 British legal documents dating from the 16th to 20th Century, most were written on sheepskin.

The researchers also found passages of text in 12th and 17th Century documents which indicated that the high fat content of sheepskins may have enabled the detection of fraudulent changes to legal documents.

Dr Doherty said: “Removing fat during the parchment-making process can cause the layers within sheepskins to separate more easily than those of other animals.

“To make fraudulent changes to documents after signing, the original text would have to be scraped off. This could cause the layers within sheepskin parchment to separate and leave a visible mark on the document, resulting in the fraud being easily detectable.”

The higher prevalence of sheep compared to goats and calves in Britain and the resulting low cost of sheepskins compared to goat and calf skins may also have been a factor, the study, published in the journal Heritage Science, said.

Umm, yes. Simplicity would argue for the cost and prevalence first, the non-tampering being a useful but possibly even unknown addendum….

9 thoughts on “Occam’s shaving kit”

  1. Indeed. It’s a bit like all those Roman ruins they find. They are always of ‘high status’, possibly for ceremonial use etc. Never the simple answer that it’s someone’s dwelling.

  2. I’d think that’s more in the nature of dwellings, Jimmers. When ceremonial buildings lose their purpose they have no function. The stone of the walls gets carted away for other buildings but the floors & mosaics remain. Maybe, later, something gets built over it. A dwelling more often continues as a dwelling. Use causes wear. Floors are dug up & replaced. Parts of the building are taken down & rebuilt. It’s a bit like Trigger’s broom. After a few centuries it’s still the same dwelling. Except none of it’s still Roman.

  3. Had a flat in a building in Malaga’s like that. The church dates to after the Reconquest. The castle is part Moorish. The building itself was nominally C18th but what it’s built out of contains all sorts of stuff. Carthaginian, Roman, later… Reused bricks & carved stone. There’s probably been dwelling on the site for the past 4000 years. Periodically modified, partially demolished then rebuilt. Abandoned then reoccupied.

  4. “Now researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Exeter and York have found that, of 477 British legal documents dating from the 16th to 20th Century, most were written on sheepskin.”

    Nobody knew that already? From wiki some time in 2009

    The term originally referred only to the skin of sheep and, occasionally, goats. The equivalent material made from calfskin, which was of finer quality, was known as “vellum”

  5. Given that most parchment and vellum was quite often scraped during writing, especially since sections often would be rewritten as negotiations progressed, and clerks have that nasty habit to make errors **, the “academics” point is pretty much moot.

    Even when the final document was written as one, final piece, there would be scraping.

    And seriously… If you wanted to make documents that persist through time and environment at those times, you did not use paper.
    Especially when sheep parchment in England was cheap(-ish), because of the huge wool trade (where do you think the wool for the famous Leiden cloth came from..?) and the resultant amount of sheep.
    Hell, England exported parchment before it went all Empire and needed the stuff for its own use.

    “Sean specialises in exploring deep-time human-animal-environment interactions through the synthesis of zooarchaeological, biomolecular (isotope analysis, proteomics and genetics), historical and anthropological research. ”
    Since it’s his thesis. But he seems to have forgotten to look up some actual documented history in the matter..

    ** Thanks to exactly the techniques the thesis author should have been using, or have been aware of, we know quite some “hidden” history, because nowadays we can still see the scraped texts…
    Besides helping to clearly identify Romantic Frauds, this dug up some doozies when it came to infighting over bar tabs, besides the humdrum stuff of wars and accounting.

  6. I believe that minor errors were corrected by rubbing with oak galls – the ink itself was based on these galls. But yes, under ultraviolet or infrared light you can often get a good idea of what lies underneath

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