Before we go any further, note that I said 'sacrifice', not 'sacrifices', so Satanists begone!
I'm here to tell you about vellum. According to Robert Fuchs, chair for the Restoration and Conservation of Archives, Graphics and Book Illumination at the University of Applied Sciences, Cologne, a distinction is sometimes made between vellum and parchment, but the terms are often used interchangeably:
The first step involves immersing the fresh animal skin for 2–6 weeks in a 5–10% solution of slaked lime (a process called liming). The different layers of the skin swell at different rates and gradually begin to break up. The epidermis reacts most quickly. Because the hairs have their roots here, after the immersion process, the hairs along with the roots are easily removed by draping the skin over a beam and shaving with a dull blade. The skin is then reversed and the remains of fat, muscle and loose flesh are likewise removed from the flesh side. After washing, the transparent skin is stretched and dried on a frame. These physical and chemical processes orient the fibers in sheets and open up the inner structure of the collagen so that air penetrates between the layers causing the parchment to become opaque, and thus suitable for writing or decoration on both sides.
From antiquity onward, the Jewish practice was to use a fermenting flour or bran paste to prepare the fresh skin, creating a very fine high-quality product. The parchment of the Dead Sea Scrolls was apparently produced this way. The enzymes that built up during fermentation facilitated the removal of the hair. The rotting paste mass was spread directly on the skins which were piled one on top of the other and left for several hours or days. Because heat also builds up during the process of decay, the decomposition can run out of control, eating holes into the skin. The enzymes attack not only the epidermis but can also penetrate to deeper layers, and may ruin the entire skin. These drawbacks have led to the increasing replacement of fermentation by liming in the Jewish manufacture of parchment. Nevertheless, special laws of cleanliness still have to be observed in preparing parchment for Jewish writings.
In the modern manufacture of parchment, sodium sulfide and enzymes are used for dehairing. The result is a product differing significantly in durability and quality from historic parchment, which can cause problems if modern material is used in parchment restoration.
The Queen's Speech is printed on vellum by The Stationery Office. Acts of Parliament, recorded on parchment and dating back to 1497, are currently held in the House of Lords Public Record Office. Among other events recorded on vellum are the Magna Carta and Charles 1's death warrant.
The last time this tradition was threatened was during the late Robin Cook's time as Leader of the House. In a comment to the press, he (apparently in jest) threatened to start a Save the Goat campaign. A few years earlier, a proposal from a House of Commons Committee to move to more animal-friendly storage systems was fought off. A discussion list from 2003, of goats and the law, records some of the views, pro and con, including, inter alia:
Do we really need to skin goats? I don't know why a good rag bond wouldn't be equally good. Keep a written record, reproduce everything in ASCII, keep several dupes on different kinds of media in different parts of the country.
The goats really seem superfluous.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:28 AM PST on January 3
The only reason we can still read documents from the 15th and 16th century is because they were printed on goat. I have trouble getting back documents from the late 90's because I saved them in a WordPerfect format which isn't really reformatted well into Word or OpenOffice. It must be worth a few goats to save this information.
On the other hand maybe we could use something that lasts even longer like rock carvings? I think we would know far less about the Egyptians if they saved all their information on some proprietary laserdisc format.
posted by sebas at 3:08 AM PST on January 3
I find this whole thing extremely disturbing.
posted by toothgnip at 7:10 AM PST on January 3