Hidden library: Visualizing fragments of medieval manuscripts in early-modern bookbindings with mobile macro-XRF scanner

Jorien R. Duivenvoorden, Anna Käyhkö, Erik Kwakkel, Joris Dik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


This experiment demonstrates the large potential of macro-XRF imaging for the visualization of fragments of medieval manuscripts hidden in early-modern bookbindings. The invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century made manuscripts obsolete and bookbinders started recycling their strong parchment leaves to reinforce bindings of printed books. One in roughly every five early-modern books contains a fragment of a medieval manuscript hidden underneath the bookbinding. Systematically investigating these fragments will provide scholars with valuable information about transmission and variant readings of medieval texts. Four case studies were scanned with a Bruker M6 Jetstream mobile XRF scanner. We were able to visualize hidden texts underneath black paint, paper and parchment at such a high resolution that they could be read and dated. One of the findings was an early twelfth-century excerpt of a text by the Venerable Bede in a sixteenth-century bookbinding. In addition, we were able to separately visualize the lower and upper text of a famous palimpsest. The main limitation of the current set-up is the scanning time, which took anywhere between 6 and 66 h. In order to systematically employ macro-XRF for researching medieval fragments, the scanning time needs to be decreased. Nonetheless, this experiment shows that the macro-XRF technique is extremely suitable for visualizing fragments of medieval manuscripts in a non-destructive way in order to read, date and localize them.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages10
JournalHeritage Science
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Fragments
  • Macro X-ray fluorescence scanning
  • Medieval manuscripts


Dive into the research topics of 'Hidden library: Visualizing fragments of medieval manuscripts in early-modern bookbindings with mobile macro-XRF scanner'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this