Computer Science News Archive

Restored artefact joins the UNESCO Register of World Heritage

A project led by researchers at UCL has resulted in an artefact being granted World Heritage Status by UNESCO.

The Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society has been likened to the Domesday Book, a great land survey of England from 1086. It will be honoured at UNESCO's UK Memory of the World awards in Cardiff. The event marks heritage collections of 'outstanding significance to the UK'.

Researchers from UCL including Professor Tim Weyrich, member of UCL’s Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics group, and Professor Melissa Terras, Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, have used specially designed software to digitise the Great Parchment book that was previously unreadable for over 200 years due to fire damage; the uneven shrinkage and distortion caused by the fire rendered much of the text illegible.

However the manuscript remained part of the City of London's collections held at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). It was successfully reconstructed as a result of a cutting-edge digital imaging project which began in 2010. The group led by Tim Weyrich worked with LMA to capture 50 to 60 high resolution images of each page.

Software was then built to generate a 3D model which allowed viewing of the damaged pages at archival resolution. A key feature of the software is to dynamically flatten these models virtually on screen, allowing the contents of the book to be accessed more easily and without further handling of the document. 

The cultural importance of the team's work is highlighted by Tim Weyrich:

"I feel privileged having been able to conduct computer science research in the context of a project of such cultural importance. We were fortunate enough that the engagement with the humanities' unique problem domain allowed us to go beyond mere application of known techniques, pushing the boundary in our research field, as evidenced by multiple high-profile publications in computer graphics."

Of the project and its collaborative aspects, Melissa Terras says:

“This project shows that when archivists and digital humanists work in a collaborative partnership with computer scientists that both our computational research and our understanding of past cultures and society can benefit”.

During his visit to the United Kingdom in 2014, Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland, viewed a display of folios from the Great Parchment Book at a State Banquet in his honour at Londonderry's Guildhall. Edward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society, said they were proud to play a pivotal role in bringing the manuscript 'back to life'.

"The book is such a marvellous testament to history and provides a fantastic account from 1639 of the City of London's role in the Plantation of Ulster and its administration. It is a wonderful tool for anyone interested in their ancestral history within Ulster and an excellent teaching aid for those exploring early modern Ireland," he said.

In 2013, Peter Robinson, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, wrote that the Great Parchment Book was "a veritable treasure trove of information".

More can be found about the project at

Posted 05 Jul 16 09:41