ICE Issue 9

32 The Israel Chemist and Chemical Engineer Issue 9 · January 2023 · Tevet 5783 History of Chemistry Articles research and was now able to deal with ancient samples. She sent a detailed report of the work performed on mitochondrial DNA sequencing of the white chess piece, which provided inconclusive results. The DNA quality did not allow the identification of the source reliably, but the results hinted at domestic sheep (Ovis aries), breed Awassi. This breed is in fact abundant in the Middle East but not in Europe, which was supposedly the origin of the chess set. Gila suggested submitting an additional, cleaner sample. Finally, Steve Weiner turned my attention to an article on zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS) by Matthew Collins [2], professor of Palaeoproteomics in the Department of Archeology in Cambridge University, and also in the University of Copenhagen. This novel method establishes the source of bones found in archeological sites by identifying proteins by means of high-resolution mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF). I turned to Matthew and he referred me to Dan Kirby from Dan Kirby Analytical Services in Milton, Massachusetts. This is the lab that performs the ZooMS testing, which was in the meantime renamed PMF (peptide mass fingerprint) analysis. I responded by opening the bottom cover of one of the hollow pieces (Figure 3) and grinding its inner part with a new grindstone fitted on a drill. I divided the resulting powder into three samples. I brought one of them to the Faculty of Agriculture, and sent one to Chris Mason with a sample of human skin that I got from a plastic surgeon. The third I sent to Dan Kirby, who sent me a prompt and surprising report: The PMF spectrum clearly shows that the sample does not include collagen, the protein found in skin and hide, but it could be done on parchment, which is virtually the same material? This question remained unanswered. I continued to search. I foundout that the infamous Buchenwald human skin lampshade, which was photographed by the US army when liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp, had disappeared. Another lampshade, claimed to be made of human skin in one of the USA museums, was found to be made of cellulose. The conclusion is that if the Nazis used Jewish corpses as a raw material, this was not a systematic effort but a local initiative. From Jacobson’s book [1], I learned that Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, is not allowed to keep human remains, and that holocaust museums in general are not interested in artifacts of this kind, which in their opinion distract public attention from the main issue of the Holocaust to side issues and controversial legends. The conclusion was that I have to keep the chess set in my possession. What is it made of? This question remained unanswered. But this was not the end of the story. When I submitted this story to all the people mentioned in it with a request for permission to mention their names, I received updated and interesting information. First, Chris Mason answered that he would be willing to analyze the sample after all, if it would arrive with the requested reference material. Further, Gila Kahila Bar-Gal had advanced in her Figure 4. Vietnamese horn chess figures. Figure 3. Pawn interior.