Animal soft tissues feature regularly in cultural artefacts but it can be difficult to pinpoint their origin. Visual identification of these tissues relies on the skill of the examiner and the condition of the material. Analytical techniques, like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, can detect and broadly classify proteins but give no answers as to their source. Precise identification of the sinews used for stitching is often impossible. Now, researchers in the US and UK have shown that peptide mass fingerprinting can be used to determine the animal species of collagen-based materials in a diverse range of museum objects.
Peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF) uses enzymes to digest proteins to produce a mixture of peptides. The mass spectrum of this mixture will have characteristic marker ions – called a peptide mass fingerprint – which are compared to a database of species-specific markers to identify the proteins.
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Identification of collagen-based materials in cultural heritage
Daniel P. Kirby, Michael Buckley, Ellen Promise, Sunia A. Traugerd and T. Rose Holdcraft
Analyst, 2013, Advance Article