Monday, June 01, 2009

800-year-old document found in Canada

St. Catharines Standard
28 May 2009

Brock University knew the historic parchment that had been tucked away in a drawer for more than 30 years was old. The best educated guess among faculty at the southern Ontario university pegged it somewhere in the 15th century.

But some online sleuthing and careful examination after its recent rediscovery leads experts at the university to believe the document is nearly 800 years old.

"We were all shocked to learn its age. It's pretty exciting," said David Sharron, Brock's head of special collections.

The document - written entirely in Latin on animal skin, possibly lamb - had been out of sight and out of mind for years. But it resurfaced last summer when Brock staff cleaned out a drawer in the special collections library.

The parchment, accompanied by a wax seal and quill sharpener, had a note attached to it, suggesting it may have originated in the 15th century.

Sharron recently asked a university staffer who is an expert in Latin - Andre Basson - to see if he could decipher the old text. Basson and Andrew McDonald, head of Brock's Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, were intrigued by what they saw.

With the help of faculty members in other departments, they began to trace the parchment's origins, using online records and medieval archives. They now believe the document dates back to 1216 and details a land transfer between Robert Clopton of England and his son, William.

The names of several witnesses signed on the record have helped investigators nail down the time frame, Sharron said. But as they try to learn more about the parchment's past, Brock is also trying to figure out exactly how the university got its hands on it.

It's known the university has had the document since at least 1976, but that's about all, Sharron said. "That's one of the mysteries about this thing ... Where they got it, we're still trying to figure it out."

Next to the parchment, the oldest item in the special collections department is a 1597 book. Most pieces in the collection are less than 200 years old and focus on Niagara. "I'm just thrilled we have a resource the students here at Brock and the faculty can look at and see what these documents look like," Sharron said.