Skip to main content

Secondary ion mass spectrometry, a powerful tool for revealing ink formulations and animal skins in medieval manuscripts


Gravis, David et al. (2023), Secondary ion mass spectrometry, a powerful tool for revealing ink formulations and animal skins in medieval manuscripts, Dryad, Dataset,


XRD diffractograms, ToF-SIMS MS and ATR-FTIR spectrometry spectra, recorded on inks on historical parchments (pigments, inked areas). ToF-SIMS and ATR-FTIR spectra from non-inked areas of the parchments. See the read-me file for complete description of the files and structure, and the main manuscript for the methodology. The PCA algorithm code is also provided.

Article abstract : Book production by medieval scriptoria have gained growing interest in recent studies. In this context, identifying ink compositions and parchment animal species from illuminated manuscripts is of great importance. Here, we introduce time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) as a non-invasive tool to identify both inks and animal skins in manuscripts, at the same time. For this purpose, both positive and negative ion spectra in inked and non-inked areas were recorded. Chemical compositions of pigments (decoration) or black inks (text) were determined by searching for characteristic ion mass peaks. Animal skins were identified by data processing of raw ToF-SIMS spectra using Principal Component Analysis (PCA). In illuminated manuscripts from 15th c. to 16th c., malachite (green), azurite (blue), cinnabar (red) inorganic pigments, as well as iron-gall black ink, were identified. Carbon black and indigo (blue) organic pigments were also identified. Animal skins were identified in modern parchments of known animal species by a two-steps PCA procedure. We believe the proposed method will find extensive application in material studies of medieval manuscripts, as it is non-invasive, highly sensitive and able to identify both inks and animal skins at the same time, even from traces of pigments and tiny scanned areas.


Analytical and data processing methods can be found in the manuscript.

Usage notes

  1. In-house PCA algorithm requires python.
  2. ToF-SIMS raw data require SurfaceLab software.
  3. ATR-FTIR raw data (.0) can be read with free-licence software (Fityk).
  4. XRD diffractograms are directly exported in .txt from .xyz files.


Namur Institute of Structured Matter, University of Namur