Tuuli Kasso



I first came across with biocodicology during my MA thesis research on parchment, and became fascinated by the potential that the Fragmenta membranea manuscript fragment collection of the National Library of Finland could provide for the international interdisciplinary research. For my MSc, I explored beeswax and medieval beekeeping. As a member of B2C and ArcHives, I am conducting my PhD in Science at the University of Copenhagen in the Collins Palaeoproteomics Group on the two precious materials encompassing medieval material culture and craftsmanship, parchment and beeswax:

  • How does the choice of animal relate to the manuscript production as a part of medieval husbandry practices?

  • Can proteins and DNA be extracted from beeswax to explore the potential biomolecular archive of medieval wax seals for e.g. geographic origin of imported beeswax?

Education & Expertise

2019>: PhD in Science, University of Copenhagen (beeswax, parchment, aDNA, proteomics, ZooMS)

2018: MSc in Archaeological Science, University of Oxford (beeswax, seals, FTIR, GC-MS, SEM-EDX)

2017: MA in Archaeology, University in Helsinki (parchment, radiocarbon dating, clean room work)

2016: BA in Archaeology, University of Helsinki (wall paintings, pigments, pXRF, SEM-EDX)

2014: BA in Conservation, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences (material analysis, archaeological material)

Beeswax and Parchment as Reservoirs of Ancient Proteins for Medieval Husbandry Practices and Trade

Manuscripts of parchment, made from domesticated animal skins, carry the written history of our past, often dated, signed, and stamped with a wax seal. Manuscripts are an unprecedented reservoir of biological information localized and dated either directly (signed and dated historical documents) or estimated from palaeography (manuscripts) and sigillography (seals). As a biological record, animal skins are evidence for the process of improvement from the middle ages to the 19th century and an attendant microbiome from scribing, handling and storage of the text. Honey bees A. mellifera were an unintended victim of the Reformation of the Church (mid 16th century). The burning of beeswax candles as symbolic representation of risen Christ was banned, and the decrease in demand was further enhanced by the abolishment of monasteries. The recent catastrophic decline in bee populations has caused concern for ecosystems worldwide and has highlighted bees’ vulnerability to also environmental change.

My project explores whether beeswax from the wax seals, like the parchment itself, contains biomolecular data can be used to explore production and trade in the Middle Ages. Beeswax records (i) colony and (ii) the microbiome of the hives (iii) the pollen sampled (up to 802 km) around the hive, and (iv) the humans that kneaded the wax into seals. If we can recover human DNA trapped inside the wax seals we can explore the potential for an archaeology of the individual. The project will develop optimal methods for extraction of proteins and DNA from beeswax, based upon methods developed to extract DNA from paraffin wax embedded tissues and hive debris. The method will be applied to historical and archival beeswax, in addition to medieval wax seals. The information acquired via proteomics and genomics of beeswax (and associated parchment), are mirrored through historical trajectories and knowledge of the use of these materials in the Middle Ages.

Contact details

email: tuuli@palaeome.org


ORCID ID: Tuuli Kasso

Twitter: @KassoTuuli