Sarah Fiddyment


I received my BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Zaragoza (Spain) in 2006, having completed three years of medical school and two years specialization in Biochemistry. My MSc and subsequent PhD (awarded in 2011) were both completed in the Laboratorio de Investigacion Molecular, at the Miguel Servet University Hospital in Zaragoza, working in the field of cardiovascular research. My work focused on the expression and production of apolipoprotein A-I Zaragoza, a mutant variant of apolipoprotein A-I that offers cardiovascular protection. During this time I gained extensive experience in the field of protein production, purification and characterization using a wide range of molecular techniques. In 2012, I joined BioArCh as a Marie Curie postdoctoral research fellow (EU-IEF) where I developed a non-invasive sampling technique enabling the use of ZooMS for parchment species identification in medieval manuscripts (eZooMS). In 2014 I was the first person in the department to be awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship allowing me to continue with my work on biomolecular analysis of manuscripts.


My research interests focus on the possibility of using ancient biomolecules retrieved from manuscripts and early printed books and documents as a biomolecular record providing information about livestock economies, book production, craft techniques and quality.


The corpus of parchment documents housed around the world represents one of the major cultural assets of European heritage. The documents have multiple biographies: of the animal itself, the parcheminerie where the skin was prepared, the scriptorium where the parchment was written, the microbial legacy accumulated through its manufacture and use and finally those of the text and the codex.  Research has tended to focus on the latter lines of evidence, but my research attempts to explore the potential of parchment records as untapped biomolecular reservoirs.


Identifying the species of origin of parchment has proven to be quite difficult despite the fact that origin is in many cases a significant element of the material. Follicle analysis has proven unreliable and only useful on those parchments that still retain the follicles.

PALIMPSEST allowed me to develop a non-invasive technique that allows us to identify the species of origin of parchment through the use of PVC erasers (eZooMS).

“The Medium is the Message”: Understanding Manuscript Production through Molecular Codicology (British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship)

Following on from the development of eZooMS I am now using this technique to investigate three main lines of research:

1. The first book factories - Pocket Bibles

It is estimated that during the thirteenth century over 30,000 pocket bibles were produced in Europe. These pocket bibles are famed for their tissue paper thin parchment leaves, leading to extensive speculation as to their animal origin (e.g. rabbits, squirrels, uterine calfskin). I am working to determine the animal species and parchment quality of a large corpus of pocket bibles from France, England and Italy in order to compare and contrasts geographic variability in pocket bible production.

2. The first printed books

The Aldine Press founded by Aldus Manutius in Venice in 1494 is one of the most acclaimed early printing presses. Some of his early copies of classical texts, printed on parchment rather than paper, still survive today. I am examining the importance of animal species and manufacturing techniques in the production and quality of early printed books, and how ideologies and technologies may have changed through time.

3. Parchment vs. paper

Previous analysis of 180 legal deeds from York and surrounding areas, dating from 1322-1819, appear to display a reduction in parchment quality in the second half of the 15th century. This drop in quality may be linked to increasing availability of paper. In order to explore this idea I am expanding this current data set with additional documents from York, and compare this phenomenon with other contemporary sites.