manuscript lab

Provenance Studies

Case Study: Sanskrit Palm-leaf Manuscripts

During our field mission to Nepal in March 2013, we performed material analysis on a certain corpus of Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscripts partly preserved in the National Archives and in the Kaiser Library, both institutions situated in Kathmandu. Our results revealed that the production of manuscripts for the use of monk-scholars at the famous East Indian Buddhist monastery of Vikramasila included treatment of the palm leaves with arsenic. Moreover, the carbon inks in the manuscripts were invariably found to have been enriched with mercury. The latter practice and probably the first-mentioned practice were seemingly far from common in the East Indian and Nepalese Sanskrit manuscript culture using palm-leaf manuscripts as a writing surface. (Delhey et al., 2015)

Portion of the XRF spectra of an inscribed palm-leaf manuscript: original ink (top and middle), later ink (bottom). Only the original inks are enriched with mercury. (Enlarge)