The EU-funded Papertech project has taken up the delicate challenge of finding techniques to prolong the lives of these valuable works. It has developed a triangle of innovations which could become the de facto protocols for the diagnostic, restoration and conservation of paper-based artefacts.
Juan Manuel Madariaga from the University of the Basque Country, one of the partners in the project, told CORDIS News: 'There are three innovations to evolve out of the project which we hope will become protocols the world over for the restoration and conservation of paper based works of cultural value.'
The first of these three innovations developed by the team is a non destructive diagnostic technique to characterise the properties of the paper and measure the level of degradation suffered by paper materials.
So, the diagnostic began with known image analysis techniques, including spectroscopic (FT-IR, RAMAN) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) measurements, as well as an innovative, especially developed mobile Nuclear Magnetic Resonance instrument (NMR MOUSE) for detecting the 'in situ' characteristics of the ancient paper object.
The researchers then turned their attention to restoration and conservation.
They synthesised new specific polymeric materials with excellent photo-oxidative stability and strong adhesive properties for sticking to cellulose substrates. Like new skin covering a wound, these polymers were grafted onto the cellulose substrate to form a second stable layer which would improve the degraded paper.
This innovative technique serves the two functions of both stopping the degradation of the artefact object and restoring it to a clean bill of health.
Finally, the researchers wrapped up their restoration research by developing a new cleaning technology using laser beams to preserve the state and quality of the newly restored works of art.
Dr Madariaga said: 'The project is proving to be a real success. We have received praise from the European Commission and expectations are running high. Now we have to test and evaluate the innovative processes of conservation before we can proceed to patenting our innovations.'
The evaluation process will involve submitting the sample model materials and technologies to strong photoxidative, chemical and biological attacks to test their stability. If these satisfy standards of efficiency and durability, only then will the materials and technologies be tested further on selected ancient paper items.
These items will then be organised into an exhibition to showcase the methods used to solve different conservation problems.
If successful, the project could result in countless works of historical and cultural value being finally allowed out of storage and onto the walls of museums around the world for people to enjoy.
The Papertech project is funded by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) and includes partners from such Mediterranean countries as Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt.
Virginia Mercouri | alfa
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