More Revelations From St. Catherine’s Monastery Include Lost Ancient Languages
Scientists have found languages not used since the “Dark Ages” among ancient manuscripts revealed at the St. Catherine’s monastery in Egypt. It is the latest findings to be released from the 1,500-year-old site that last month provided the earliest copies of texts from Greek physician Hippocrates.
Defunct Language Forms Discovered
Among the many new texts found by researchers from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California were documents written in uncommon languages. According to the website of the Sinai Palimpsest Project, there is an international team of 23 world-renowned scholars that is, ‘constantly making new discoveries concerning ancient languages, texts and script styles.’
The thousands of manuscripts at St. Catherine's are written in Arabic, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac languages. With the new findings, this list now includes Caucasian Albanian, which had only been known from dispersed stone engravings until now, and Christian Palestinian Aramaic that became defunct after the 12th century. There are also texts written in Latin that have not yet been fully identified but are ‘sometimes in very early scripts’, states Sinai Palimpsest Project.
Additionally, three ancient Greek medical texts that were previously unknown to historians were also uncovered, as well as the earliest copies of some texts from legendary Greek physician Hippocrates, as reported in an Ancient-Origins article last month.
“The age of discovery is not over,” Michael Phelps from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library in California told The Times. And adds, “In the 20th century new manuscripts were discovered in caves. In the 21st century, we will apply new techniques to manuscripts that have been under our noses. We will recover lost voices.”
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A fragment of a reused parchment, or palimpsest, covered with medieval Greek writing (left) shows faint traces of a text lying beneath. Multispectral imaging of the parchment (right) shows that the erased text, in red, is 1 Corinthians, transcribed in the 5th century. (Credit: Greekworldmedia)
New Technique Helps Scientist Unearth Lost Texts
The ancient works laying underneath monastery scriptures have been unearthed using imaging technology that pieced together words ostensibly erased. The team of researchers discovered a series of lost texts using a method that helped them to reinstate ancient documents that were written many centuries ago in order to save on expensive parchment. The ink which had been scraped off in antiquity and scribed over, left a residue which is clearly legible using the right technology. “The discoveries at Saint Catherine's monastery on the Sinai peninsula, Egypt, signal a new golden age of discovery,” the scientists conducting the research stated as The Times reported.
Built between 548 and 565, the Greek Orthodox monastery had been a pilgrimage destination for Orthodox Christians but was closed to the public for security reasons in 2015, leaving only the monks and clergy inside the compound. The library from which the reused parchments or palimpsests that are being scrutinized come is second only to the Vatican in its collection of Christian works.
The modern technique, which involves taking pictures of parchment from several angles and using different parts of the light spectrum allows them to see the first writing laid down on the parchments before they were over-written.
Spectral imaging system in that is being used at St. Catherine’s Monastery (Credit: sinaipalimpsests)
The ISIS Threat
The findings were announced at the headquarters of the Ministry of Antiquities in Cairo last week. As The Independent observes, the scientists unearthed the “hidden” texts at Saint Catherine’s monastery at a fortuitous time as its future is in serious danger from the terrorist group of ISIS and other extremist Muslim groups that have been systematically ruining Christian sites in recent years.
What makes experts agonize even more is the fact that Saint Catherine's monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world, having been in use for at least 1,500 years. “I don’t know of any library in the world that parallels it,” Phelps tells the Times. And adds, “The monastery is an institution from the Roman Empire that continues operating according to its original mission.”
Saint Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt (CC BY 2.0)
The High Value of Parchment
Furthermore, researchers explained that parchment was once of great worth and for that reason it was often reused. “At some point the material the manuscript was on became more valuable than what was written on it. So it was deemed worthy of being recycled,” Michael Phelps tells The Times.
Monks usually wrote copies of the Bible on top of old texts, meaning many ancient texts have been lost. But the researchers claim now that long lost documents, even those written by the famous ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, could be rediscovered on texts in libraries across the world using their revolutionary new technique. As already mentioned, scientists used photographs taken from a number of different angles and using different parts of the light spectrum to reveal traces of ink left by early scribes before the text was washed off. Images of the parchment were then combined using computer algorithms to highlight the text beneath.
Palimpsest Syrus Sinaiticus (Syriac 30), installed on the preservation Book Cradle of the spectral imaging system (Credit: sinaipalimpsests)
More details are expected to follow soon, as the researchers are currently examining and studying the texts.