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Anal Chem. 2000 Jan 1;72(1):234-9.

Identification of dyes on ancient Chinese paper samples using the subtracted shifted Raman spectroscopy method.

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School of Chemistry, Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland.


The Stein Collection in the British Library contains the Diamond Sutra, the world's oldest, dated, printed document. The paper of the Diamond Sutra and other documents from the Stein collection is believed to be dyed yellow by a natural extract, called huangbo, from the bark of Phellodendron amurense, which contains three major yellow chromophores: berberine, palmatine, and jatrorrhizine. Conservation of these documents requires definite information on the chemical composition of the dyes but no suitable, completely noninvasive analytical method is known. Here we report resonance Raman studies of a series of pure dyes, of plant materials and extracts, and of dyed ancient and modern paper samples. Resonance Raman spectroscopy is used to enhance the spectra of the dyes over the signals from the paper matrixes in which they are held. The samples all give resonance Raman spectra which are dominated by intense fluorescence, but by using SSRS (subtracted shifted Raman spectroscopy) we have obtained reliable spectra of the pure dyes, native bark from the Phellodendron amurense, modern paper dyed with huangbo extracted from this bark, and ancient paper samples. For both ancient paper samples whose pigment bands were detected, the relative intensities of the bands due to berberine and palmatine suggest that the ancient paper is richer in berberine than its modern counterpart. This is the first nondestructive in situ method for detection of these pigments in manuscripts, and as such has considerable potential benefit for the treatment of irreplaceable documents that are believed to be dyed with huangbo but documents on which conservation work cannot proceed without definite identification of the chemical compounds that they contain.

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