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Miniature Manuscript of The Gospel of Mark Determined Inauthentic by McCrone Associates and University of Chicago Divinity School


WESTMONT, Ill. December 13, 2009 — The McCrone Group, Inc. today announced their microanalytical examination of an illustrated miniature manuscript (or codex) of the Gospel of Mark, termed the “Archaic Mark,” helped identify the manuscript as a forgery.

The codex, speculated to have been prepared between the 13th and 18th centuries, contains text from the entire Gospel of Mark. Biblical scholars often use multiple versions of the same book to compare textual and historical information, which is how the codex was historically used. This particular manuscript is written in minuscule handwriting on 44 pages and included 16 miniature color illuminations.

McCrone Associates, Inc., the analytical service division of the McCrone Group, partnered with the University of Chicago early last year to analyze the writing ink the paints in the miniatures and other material constituents of the codex and presented their findings at the University of Chicago Regenstein Library, The Special Collections Research Center, last month,

“The mystery of the date of ‘Archaic Mark’ is now conclusively and independently solved from textual, chemical and codicological angles,” said Dr. Margaret M. Mitchell, University of Chicago Divinity School. “This has been a triumph of collaborative work to solve a decades-long enigma to determine if the codex is genuine.”

Birth of a Mystery
As early as 1947, scholars speculated whether the miniature codex was an authentic Byzantine manuscript, preserving a very early text of the Gospel of Mark, or a modern forgery. Suspicions that the content of the codex was derived from a 19th century critical edition of the Greek New Testament arose due to its translation style and a finding of an18th century pigment embedded in one of the miniatures.

However, many argued the pigment may have come from attempts to retouch the document during restoration and were not part of its original construction.

In 2005, the University of Chicago Library digitized the Archaic Mark, making it available to scholars worldwide and stimulating renewed interest in the document. The University also arranged for a complete and definitive examination of the material components of the codex. Microscopical and chemical testing was completed by McCrone Associates, codicological testing (the study of how books are constructed) by Ms. Abigail B. Quandt, Senior Conservator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and textual analysis by Dr. Margaret M. Mitchell, the University of Chicago Divinity School.

“We chose McCrone Associates for its internationally recognized status as a microanalysis leader in conservation with similar projects like the Gospel of Judas,”‘ said Mitchell.

Mystery Solved
In January 2008 and February of 2009, Joseph G. Barabe, Senior Research Microscopist at McCrone Associates, took 24 samples of parchment, ink and a range of paints used in illustrations from the codex to determine its authenticity. Examinations were completed at both the University of Chicago Library and McCrone Associates’ laboratory in Westmont, Ill.

The samples were analyzed by polarized light (PLM), energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry (EDS) in the scanning electron microscope (SEM) for elemental analysis, X-ray diffraction (XRD), Fourier Transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and Raman spectroscopy. McCrone scientists found no evidence of retouching of any kind in the manuscript, disproving earlier suspicions the any modern pigments found in the manuscript were the result of restoration attempts.

Barabe determined the “Archaic Mark” codex was created after 1874 using materials not available until the late 19th century. He also submitted samples to the Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of Arizona for carbon dating which reported the animals from which the parchment was made most likely died somewhere between the 15th – 17th centuries.

“For the first time, there was a comprehensive chemical examination of all the components of the codex, and using the benefits of modern microanalysis instruments and techniques, we gave scientific evidence to what were only speculations about the manuscript’s authenticity,” said Barabe.

The rest of the authentication team confirmed the microanalysis results. Ms. Quandt used codological analysis to reconstruct the steps taken by the modern forger to produce the manuscript. Dr. Mitchell completed analysis by determining the text from which the forger copied the information provided in the codex. Mitchell suspects the forger used an 1860 edition of the Greek New Testament by Phillip Buttman, Novum Testamentum Graece, further indicating the manuscript is a modern forgery. (In 2006 Mitchell’s fellow scholar Stephen Carlson asserted the manuscript may have been derived from Buttman’s edition; however his speculations were never attached to definitive scientific and codological evidence.) The team’s findings will be published in the scholarly journal Novum Testamentum in February 2010.

“The data collected in this research process has given us an even deeper understanding of the careful work that went into creating such a complex and ultimately successful forgery that has mystified scholars up until present day,” said Mitchell. “It will, we hope, also assist ongoing scholarly investigation into and detection of manuscripts forged in the modern period.”

About The McCrone Group
Founded in 1956 and located in Westmont, IL, The McCrone Group, Inc., is a world leader in materials analysis and is internationally recognized as the premier microscopy resource. The company is comprised of three business units: McCrone Associates, the analytical service division; McCrone Microscopes & Accessories, the instrument sales division; and the College of Microscopy, the education division that provides training to industry and government scientists worldwide. For more information about The McCrone Group, please visit