Wired reports on a Penn State evolutionary biologist, Blair Hedges, and his interesting research into more accurate dating of historical prints. Instead of (or, more likely, in addition to) relying on the contextual and material evidence which historians of the book normally employ (studying the paper for watermarks, say, or analyzing the fonts), Blair Hedges studies the deterioration of wood and metal printing plates used in subsequent editions of a book.
It’s a clever idea but one with relatively limited application insofar as you’d need to have multiple examples of this one image being reused. There’d be more examples with using a printer’s mark to date the publications, obviously, than with some one-off illustrations that only survive in rare copies. Still, it’s an interesting tool to add to a historian’s arsenal and one I’m going to read up on. And, coming from an evolutionary biologist, it’s fun for the whole academic family!