Monday, July 9, 2007

Is it Real?

I came across this story over the weekend.

The Chicago History Museum has a new exhibit entitled “Is It Real?” The exhibit examines the authenticity of historical artifacts. A few Lincoln-related items made the list, including a bed sheet stained with blood, purportedly from the bed at the Petersen House, where Lincoln died.

It got me thinking about how we verify the legitimacy of historical items. Certainly the provenance of an item is important—we need to know who previously owned the item. We can also date the items. In the case of the bed sheet, I would assume a bed sheet produced in 2007 looks quite different from one made in the 1860s.

DNA is also a possibility. In the case of the blood stained bed sheet, I think we can test the sample and see if it is consistent with Lincoln’s DNA. But then I wonder—do we have Lincoln’s DNA? There are strands of Lincoln’s hair, but have any of those been tested yet? I’m just not sure.

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