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Photo: National Museum of Ireland.
Found in an Irish bog. The psalter is shown here pre-conservation – lines of psalms clearly visible.

In the miracles-all-around-us department, imagine finding in a peat bog a medieval book of psalms that looked like the monastic compilers might have had links with Egypt! Lisa O’Carroll writes for the Guardian about a book on the psalter’s discovery and painstaking restoration.

“One summer’s day in Tipperary as peat was being dug from a bog, a button peered out from the freshly cut earth. The find set off a five-year journey of conservation to retrieve and preserve what lay beyond: a 1,200-year-old psalm book in its original cover.

“Bogs across Europe have thrown up all sorts of relics of the ancient past, from naturally preserved bodies to vessels containing butter more than a millennium old, but the 2006 discovery of an entire early medieval manuscript, entombed in a wet time capsule for so long, was unprecedented, said the National Museum of Ireland.

“The book fell open upon discovery to reveal the Latin words in ualle lacrimarum (in the valley of tears), which identified it as a book of psalms. One particularly unexpected feature was the vegetable-tanned leather cover with a papyrus reed lining, suggesting the monks could have had trade links with Egypt.

“ ‘It still blows me away,’ said John Gillis, the chief manuscript conservator at Trinity College Dublin, home of the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh and 450 other medieval Latin manuscripts. ‘It was by far and away the most challenging, most interesting project I have ever undertaken – and to put that in context, I am surrounded by these iconic manuscripts.’

“Ten years after going on display at the National Museum in Dublin, the Faddan More Psalter is one of Ireland’s top 10 treasures and now the subject of a 340-page book from the institution documenting every stage of the ‘terrifying’ preservation process for future scholars. …

“The process of stabilising the book outside the bog, drying it and then unpicking and unfolding pages where possible was painstaking. Archaeologists placed the ‘conglomeration’ of squashed pages, leather and turf in a walk-in cold store in the museum at 4C. But there was no manual in the world to guide Gillis on how to go about the task. …

“Initial examination was limited in order to mitigate further trauma. CT scans and X-rays to find 3D structures were excluded owing to concerns that they could accelerate the degradation.

“After trying sophisticated versions of freeze-drying, vacuum-sealing, and drying with blotting paper, Gillis settled on a dewatering method using a vacuum chamber installed in the museum lab for four years to minimise shrinkage and decay.

“It would take two years before all the folio fragments were in a dry and stable state before the daunting task of dismantling could begin, a process chronicled in the book out later this month, The Faddan More Psalter, The Discovery and Conservation of a Medieval Treasure.

“ ‘It was absolutely terrifying,’ Gillis said of the responsibility he felt.

‘I heard from someone in the British Museum that there was a picture of the [book fragments] on the walls in a staff area there with the words “If you think you have a bad day ahead …”

” ‘You had this nerve-racking scenario of disturbing this material, which meant losing evidence, when the whole point was trying to gain as much information as possible.’

“Many of the spaces between the iron gall letters had dissolved into the bog, leaving an alphabet soup of several thousand standalone letters. It would take months after the drying process to piece them all together, in sequence on the right pages.

“ ‘The rewards when you slowly lifted up a fragment, and suddenly beneath this little bit of decoration would appear, particularly the yellow pigment they used. It would kind of shine back at you,’ Gillis said. ‘And you’d go: “Wow, I am the first person to see this in 1,200 years.” So that kind of privilege made all the sleepless nights and racking of the brain worthwhile.

“ ‘It was the purest conservation I’ve ever carried out. There is no repair, I’ve attached nothing new. All I’ve done is captured and stabilised.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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What a magnificent beast is the endangered snow leopard, so rare that pretty much the only way to get a gorgeous photo like the one below is to set up a camera with a spring that takes a picture when jostled!

The radio show Living on Earth recently had a story about snow leopards and how Tibetan monks are helping to save them.

Steve Curwood interviewed Tom McCarthy of Panthera, a nonprofit that protects wild cats.

“CURWOOD: So, Tom, your organization, Panthera, has enlisted the services of Buddhist monks to help conserve the snow leopard. Can you describe this program for us please?

“MCCARTHY: Yes. Correct. It actually came from a PhD research project of a Chinese graduate student … and one of the things in mapping [snow leopard] occurrence that she happened to notice was that snow leopard range corresponded very closely to where most Buddhist monasteries were in the region.

“Around each of the Buddhist monasteries, there’s a number of sacred mountains, sacred lakes that they routinely patrol to keep people from violating any of their regulations or for killing any animals. And so she kind of put two and two together …

“So our partners at ShanShui, the conservation organization, went out and formed a partnership initially with four different monasteries, and what Panthera and Shan Shui do is provide the monasteries with a little bit of extra training, some of the basic tools that they need to do snow leopard monitoring, so now they can go out and not only protect snow leopards, but also count snow leopards. They do an awfully good job of talking to their followers about protecting snow leopards and the value of snow leopards in the ecosystem, and the end result is we have a much stronger conservation ethic being imparted to the people across the plateau through the Tibetan monks.”

More.

Photo: Panthera
Camera trap photo of a snow leopard on the Tibetan plateau

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