The ultimate unrolling and preservation between glass of the Library’s Gandhara Scroll was “low tech” but instructive in its simplicity. As with most treatments, the bulk of the project was spent in looking, thinking and testing. Because the two thousand year old birch bark is so fragile and every word so precious, each step in its preservation was particularly measured. The physical treatment carried out at the Library of Congress began with a gradual humidification of the scroll over the period of several days.
Once humidified, the Scroll was placed on a sheet of high quality and purified glass (Borofloat). Using specially fashioned, simple tools, the team gently unrolled the Scroll, setting each section down with a glass weight. Upon completion the glass weights were removed and the second sheet of Borofloat glass was laid in place. The edges were sealed with Filmoplast P 90. A specially constructed clam shell box was designed to dampen vibrations and discourage handling.
It is obvious that the Gandhara Scroll was not conserved in the way that we normally think of conserving an object. In our opinion, the inherent instability of the 2000 year old birch bark scroll could not be addressed by any technique or material currently available. It remains an incredibly fragile item and we made a decision early in the process to preserve the maximum amount of information, resigned to the fact the every time the piece is handled, it deteriorates a bit. Our strategy for long-term preservation of the Scroll itself is to minimize environmental impact and limit handling. High resolution photography taken of the Gandhara Scroll satisfies most access needs.