Australia’s only nuclear reactor and scientists on both sides of the continent are contributing to international research into an Anglican Bible in Perth that is more than 450 years old.
The OPAL reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney is being used to study tree leaves, used as bookmarks, which were found in the Great Bible at the University of Western Australia (UWA) earlier this year when it was read for the first time in more than two decades.
OPAL, which stands for Open Pool Australian Lightwater, is a 20-megawatt reactor that uses low enriched uranium fuel for research, scientific, industrial and production purposes. It was opened by then Prime Minister John Howard in 2007 and is the centrepiece of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO's) research centre at Lucas Heights.
ANSTO’s Head of the Institute for Environmental Research, Professor John Dodson, and the Leader of the Neutron Activation Analysis Program, Dr John Bennett, summarised their conclusions about the UWA Bible as follows:
The ANSTO scientists - together with a Senior Lecturer at UWA’s School of Plant Biology, Dr Pauline Grierson, who performed oxygen and nitrogen isotope tests on the leaves - have confirmed that they are Elm leaves, dating to around 1560AD.
“This is an incredibly exciting example of just how wide-ranging the applications of nuclear science can be,” Professor Dodson said.
“Previously, we could only have imagined who placed these leaves as bookmarks: now we know it was likely someone from Elizabethan England.’’
UWA bought the Bible, a second edition printed and published in April 1540 and with a preface by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, from a London antiquarian bookseller in 1977 for £350.
The Great Bible, first published in 1539, was the first English-language Bible authorised for public use in every parish church in England – 72 years before the King James Version was published. Perth’s copy weights seven kilograms and is 42 x 30 x 13 centimetres.
UWA News reported on 31 October that the leaves were found in the Bible in the UWA Scholars’ Centre by senior library officer Susana Melo de Howard earlier this year.
“UWA acquired this Bible in the 1970s and it had not been accessed for more than 20 years,” Ms Melo de Howard said.
“Then a man, a fisherman, was perusing it several months ago and when I went to put it away, I found the leaves.
“I fantasised that a monk had put them there while reading in the cloisters of the medieval cathedral in Ely, where the Bible was originally held. And I immediately called (the School of) Plant Biology for their help.”
Professor Dodson, formerly of UWA, co-opted his colleague, Dr Fraser Mitchell from Trinity College Dublin, to identify the leaves then the two of them decided to send photos of the leaves to another former UWA staff member, Professor Steve Hopper, at Kew Gardens in London.
Meanwhile, Dr Grierson sent photos of the leaves to a colleague in Siberia and other botanists around the world.
After stable carbon, oxygen and nitrogen isotope tests at UWA and radiocarbon dating at ANSTO, the leaves were identified as coming from a Wych elm (Ulmus glabra) from around 1560.
Wych elm is one of the species almost wiped out by Elm disease over the past century, but it once grew in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
One of the leaves was ground up for the tests but the other two are being kept in acid-free paper at UWA’s Scholars’ Centre, which has controlled temperature and humidity.
Ms Melo de Howard told UWA News she was thrilled with the results.
“We are so lucky to have the expertise, the equipment and the generosity of these scientists through our university network,” she said.
“Without them, this mystery would never have been solved.”
Professor Dodson said: “It’s remarkable that the same type of technology we used to trace the age and history of these leaves, we use to study water resource management and carbon capture methods for farmers.”
Article from : Anglican Diocese of Melbourne by Mark Brolly