Study of Paper

Paper is a fragile and quickly-decaying human-made material that is rarely the center of archaeological research, and this has resulted in a relative absence of references and established methodology for the study and conservation of Asian books in situ. Our aim is to apply a variety of analytical techniques in order to date, map the places of origin, and describe the physical features of the manuscripts. This includes identification of fibre composition and description of the technological features of each paper.
Fibre analysis informs us what things are made of, and the primary feature of paper is the type of raw material, usually plant material, used for its production. When comparing the results of fibre analyses of paper with the area of distribution of the same raw plant material, we can obtain information about the possible region of a document’s origins. In this way, fibre analysis can be helpful for both locating the regional origins of papermaking and sometimes for dating, when using a method that entails overlapping typologies. For example, the area suggested by plant distribution can be critically evaluated along with other features in the manuscript, and we can learn whether these features originate from the same area (understood as a cultural context, country, or region) or not. These results also help in answering some questions about the history of paper in the region, as well as the trade and import of paper and other writing materials in the Himalayas and Central Asia. Of course, the more research and data we can give to this endeavor will, over time, achieve higher precision for regional attribution.