AMS radiocarbon dating and scientific examination of high historical value manuscripts: Application to two Chinese manuscripts from Dunhuang

Pascale Richardin, Françoise Cuisance and Nathalie Buisson
Cultural Heritage, 2010 vol. 11 no 4 pp. 398--403

In order to develop their restoration, a material study was undertaken on two Chinese manuscripts, shaped like binded codex (Chinese Pelliot 2547 and 2490), supposed to be dated from 8th and 10th centuries, and belonging to the Pelliot collection of the National Library of France in Paris. It allowed a better knowledge of the making technique of their bindings together with some of their components. We undertook the identification of the inks, and pigments used for calligraphy, and the dating of the wood and of the binding of the documents. Microsamples of inks were characterised by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and the results of the x-ray microanalysis of particular interest are the presence of hematite and ochre in red samples, and carbon black and traces of bone black in the black inks. The taxon of wood has been identified on thin strips by the classical techniques used in xylology: the two scrolls were identified as Tamarix sp. (Tamaricaceae). The AMS radiocarbon dating of the manuscripts was also carried out on the wooden sticks which hold the paper sheets. Comparison of the potential calendar age distributions indicates probability distributions in the region between 662–781calAD and 862–994calAD for CP2547 and CP2490 respectively, which corresponds to the expected values. These results allowed to bring wider knowledge on the inks and the paintings and, in particular, have led to propose a date for the making of the binding of the CP2547, which confirms ideas proposed by book historians.