Applied Physics A

, Volume 118, Issue 3, pp 1107–1111 | Cite as

The mysterious halos in iron gall ink manuscripts: an analytical explanation

  • Marta MansoEmail author
  • Ana Mafalda Cardeira
  • Mara Silva
  • Agnès Le Gac
  • Sofia Pessanha
  • Mauro Guerra
  • Ana Teresa Caldeira
  • António Candeias
  • Maria Luísa Carvalho


Three historical manuscripts, two on parchment (dated 1280 and 1514) and one on paper support (dated 1589–1592), were under study. The three manuscripts were strongly attacked by microorganisms exhibiting dark brownish stains all over the surface except in the adjacent areas to some of the used inks, where a halo around the written text could be observed. In order to understand the origin of these halos, inks and manuscript supports were analyzed using portable energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. Characteristic elements (Fe, Cu, Zn, and Mn) from iron gall inks were identified. Inks surrounded by a halo had in common a high amount of Zn in their composition. Microbiologic assays were performed aseptically on collected samples from the areas of the document with significant contamination and degradation. Samples were inoculated in a selective culture media, and the microorganisms developed were identified according to the macroscopic and microscopic features. For the evaluation of microflora proliferation, scanning electron microscopy was used. Furthermore, in vitro tests were carried out in the presence of zinc sulfate, revealing inhibition capacity for the majority of fungi sampled from these manuscripts.


Cladosporium Historical Document Zinc Sulfate Zinc Sulfate Solution Biological Contamination 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was partially supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT): Project Ref. SPTDC/EAT/112662/2009. M. Manso , M. Guerra, and S. Pessanha are supported by FCT through the Grants Ref. SFRH/BPD/70031/2010, Ref. SFRH/BPD/92455/2013, and Ref. SFRH/BPD/94234/2013, respectively. Authors would like to thank Sintra City Hall for allowing the analytical study of the charter of Sintra; S. Lacerda, Director of the National Archive Torre do Tombo; A. Ribeiro, M. Costa, S. Domingos, and T. Rosado for the support, the suggestions, and the fruitful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marta Manso
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ana Mafalda Cardeira
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mara Silva
    • 3
  • Agnès Le Gac
    • 1
    • 4
  • Sofia Pessanha
    • 1
  • Mauro Guerra
    • 1
  • Ana Teresa Caldeira
    • 3
  • António Candeias
    • 3
    • 5
  • Maria Luísa Carvalho
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Centro de Física Atómica da Universidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Faculdade de Belas-Artes da Universidade de LisboaLargo da Academia Nacional de Belas ArtesLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.Laboratório HERCULES, Departamento de Química e Centro de Química de ÉvoraUniversidade de ÉvoraÉvoraPortugal
  4. 4.Faculdade de Ciências e TecnologiaUniversidade Nova de LisboaCaparicaPortugal
  5. 5.Laboratório José de FigueiredoDirecção-Geral do Património CulturalLisbonPortugal

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