All stakeholders in cultural heritage share an interest in fabrication methods and material technology. Until now methods for analysis of organic materials, particularly proteins, have not been widely available to researchers at cultural institutions. This paper will describe an analytical method for the identification of collagen-based materials from soft tissue sources and show examples of its application to diverse museum objects. The method, peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF), uses enzymatic digestion of extracted proteins to produce a mixture of peptides. The mass spectrum of the mixture contains characteristic marker ions—a peptide mass fingerprint—which are compared to species-specific markers from references as the basis of identification. Preliminary results indicate that analysis of materials from aged samples, several different tissue types, and tanned or untanned materials yields comparable PMF results. Significantly, PMF is simple, rapid, sensitive and specific, has been implemented in a museum laboratory, and is being practiced successfully by non-specialists.
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