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DNA test confirms parchment is part of Treaty of Waitangi

A: The Waitangi Sheet of the Treaty of Waitangi showing the extensive damage to the two parchments by rats, water and subsequent repairs
C: The blank piece of parchment to be a portion removed from the lower membrane of the Waitangi Sheet.

A blank piece of parchment (prepared animal skin historically used for writing) believed to have been from Te Tiriti o Waitangi has been confirmed to be so, with DNA analysis proving it shares the same genetic composition as the lower part of the iconic Waitangi sheet.

Archives New Zealand, National Library and Te Papa worked together to genetically analyse the parchment, publishing their findings in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The blank piece of parchment was found in 1929 in an envelope labelled “1865, Treaty of Waitangi Blank Portion of the Original Skin” which was donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library with the papers of WBD Mantell, who was Minister of Native Affairs for two terms in the 1860s.

The analysis came about as part of ongoing preservation research into the country’s significant constitutional documents housed at the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library in Wellington.

“We were frustrated at the lack of early information about the condition of the Treaty documents and were unable to fully evaluate the document to ensure its safe and ongoing preservation requirements” says Peter Whitehead, National Library Collection Care Leader.

Archives New Zealand Conservator Anna Whitehead says, “We had thoroughly examined the blank piece of parchment but weren’t able to guarantee its origin unless on our own – hence asking Lara Shepherd, an evolutionary biologist at Te Papa to help with DNA testing.”

Apart from confirming its connection to the Treaty, the research discovered that the parchment had been made from a female sheep.

The conservators can now use the blank piece like a control to see how events of the past 150 years have impacted on the preservation of the document. This opens the door for more research opportunities.


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