Free Republic
Browse · Search
General/Chat
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Solving the mystery of an unusual medieval text
phys.org ^ | July 20, 2018 | by Alex Shashkevich, Stanford University

Posted on 07/20/2018 2:10:32 PM PDT by Red Badger

Rowan W. Dorin, assistant professor of history, with the miscataloged parchments whose mystery he is working to solve. Credit: L.A. Cicero

__________________________________________________________________________

When historian Rowan Dorin first stepped onto the Stanford campus in early 2017, he made it a habit to visit Green Library every week to dig through its collection of medieval documents and objects.

After a few months, Dorin, an assistant professor of history specializing in medieval Europe, discovered something out of the ordinary.

Three leaves of ancient parchment were labeled as a Hebrew translation of text about grammar, but its margins had Latin words like fish, capers and dill.

"It looked like some sort of food dictionary," said Dorin about his first impression of the documents. "There didn't seem to be anything grammatical about it."

The miscataloged texts turned out to be written in Arabic using Hebrew letters, with Latin and old Spanish notes on the edges. They described the health qualities of pickled foods, causes of hiccupping and other ancient medical knowledge.

Dorin said the rare parchments showcase the sharing of knowledge that was happening among societies around the Mediterranean Sea during the Middle Ages, the historical period between the 5th and the 15th centuries.

"Most people associate the Middle Ages with plague, war and ignorance," said Dorin, who is also an affiliated faculty member at the Taube Center for Jewish Studies. "We don't usually think about the dialogues between different cultures or open exchanges of knowledge that were happening throughout that time. These documents are evidence for the conversations occurring among people from different linguistic backgrounds."

Cracking a historical puzzle

After more than a year of research, Dorin, with the help of other scholars around the world, determined that the pages came from two different texts. One was first written down in northern Africa sometime in the 14th century and ended up in Spain, where it was recycled as scrap parchment. The other was probably written around the same time on the island of Mallorca, a diverse hub of commerce in the western Mediterranean, Dorin said.

Dorin believes that the knowledge the texts carry was passed down from the ancient Greeks.

But many things about the artifacts are still unsolved. For example, it is unclear who wrote them or what other medical books the authors referenced during their creation.

Back then, books were copied by hand and expensive to produce.

"Hebrew manuscript fragments from that time are especially rare because so many of them were destroyed," Dorin said. "Stanford's collections include hundreds of fragments from medieval Latin manuscripts, but to have something in Judaeo-Arabic is really special."

The story behind the texts becomes even more complex because two of the pages contain faded text underneath the main text. X-ray imaging at Stanford University Libraries' preservation department revealed that the hidden writing is in Hebrew and is also about medical knowledge.

Dorin said the hidden text could have been scraped off to make room for new text, as was often done during that time because parchment was expensive. But the faded passages could also have been an imprint of another text that was pressed tightly against the parchment.

All three pieces of parchment were eventually used as covers for bindings of other books because of their durability.

"We may never find out who originally wrote them," Dorin said. "But these texts provide a unique look at medieval multilingual communities. They were written for someone who could read Latin as well as Hebrew and Arabic, at least."

This summer, Hagar Gal, a rising Stanford sophomore, is helping Dorin determine if any connection could be made between this text and other known Jewish, Arabic or Greek medical manuscripts from that time.

"It feels like I'm trying to figure out a cool puzzle," Gal said.

Gal said she was immediately captivated by the mysterious document after Dorin presented it to her and other students during a course on medieval history this past winter quarter. Gal, who was born in Israel and knows some Hebrew, picked up on the words "pickling" and "vinegarized" in the writing.

"I was so excited to recognize words that were written so long ago," said Gal, adding that she has always enjoyed studying history. "It's pretty amazing to see how this one document captures the movement of knowledge throughout the Mediterranean and Africa and how languages come and go with time."

All three pieces of parchment can be viewed in high resolution on the Stanford Libraries' website or in person at the Department of Special Collections, where they are now labeled as "Fragments of two medical treatises written in Judaeo-Arabic.

Explore further: Hidden medical text read for the first time in a thousand years

Provided by: Stanford University


TOPICS: Agriculture; Health/Medicine; History; Religion
KEYWORDS: arabic; epigraphyandlanguage; godsgravesglyphs; greek; hebrew; latin
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-24 next last

1 posted on 07/20/2018 2:10:32 PM PDT by Red Badger
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: SunkenCiv

PinGGG!......................


2 posted on 07/20/2018 2:10:55 PM PDT by Red Badger (July 2018 - the month the world discovered the TRUTH......Q Anon)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

What mystery?

The muslims destroyed everything non islamic or made it their own...


3 posted on 07/20/2018 2:17:46 PM PDT by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - they want to die for islam and we want to kill them)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2banana

Muslim piracy in the Mediterranean also destroyed the trade in papyrus, which left parchment as the only and far more expensive alternative.


4 posted on 07/20/2018 2:22:49 PM PDT by Noumenon (When all liberals have is a hammer, every problem is a nail in YOUR coffin.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

Thanks for posting.

I always enjoy reading about ancient history.


5 posted on 07/20/2018 2:26:00 PM PDT by zeestephen
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger
I think there is a gene that we humans have that triggers a desire for knowledge about plants, what is good to eat...the seeds from tasty ones then the exchanging of seeds becomes an exchange of 'recipes' for health as well as food. Preserving both humans and food, look to wine and vinegar.....and on and on and on.

I hope Mr. Dorin will share his document "finds" with all of us.

6 posted on 07/20/2018 2:40:50 PM PDT by yoe
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

Parchment is animal skin, from a sheep or goat. Vellum is parchment made from calf skin.

(This luddite has brain tanned more than 75 whitetail hides)


7 posted on 07/20/2018 2:46:46 PM PDT by KingLudd
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: KingLudd

As a calligrapher and illuminator you are absolutely correct. In the strictest sense, “vellum,” is cow or calf skin only, deriving from the same root as, “veal.”


8 posted on 07/20/2018 2:55:00 PM PDT by Joe 6-pack (Qui me amat, amat et canem meum.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: emmyloukay

ping


9 posted on 07/20/2018 3:10:32 PM PDT by Bellflower (Who dares believe Jesus? He says absolutely amazing things, which few dare consider.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

Drink you Ovaltine


10 posted on 07/20/2018 3:16:16 PM PDT by VRW Conspirator (Enforce the Law. Build the Wall. Deport them All.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

Thanks for posting this.

I am puzzled, though. Why is this researcher not wearing gloves while handling those texts?


11 posted on 07/20/2018 3:23:05 PM PDT by Bigg Red (The USA news industry, the MSM-13, takes a machete to the truth. {h/t TigersEye})
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

bfl


12 posted on 07/20/2018 3:27:03 PM PDT by Skooz (Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Bigg Red

I’m sure those would be copies, with the originals safely tucked away.


13 posted on 07/20/2018 3:28:14 PM PDT by Skooz (Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us Gabba Gabba we accept you we accept you one of us)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger

Just finished a polish dill pickle, yum.


14 posted on 07/20/2018 3:37:57 PM PDT by bgill (CDC site, "We don't know how people are infected with Ebola.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Skooz

Hadn’t thought of that. Derp!


15 posted on 07/20/2018 4:01:55 PM PDT by Bigg Red (The USA news industry, the MSM-13, takes a machete to the truth. {h/t TigersEye})
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; 1ofmanyfree; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...
Thanks Red Badger.

16 posted on 07/20/2018 4:20:50 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (www.tapatalk.com/groups/godsgravesglyphs/, forum.darwincentral.org, www.gopbriefingroom.com)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Bigg Red

I read recently on a British Medieval page that researchers no longer use gloves to handle ancient texts because when you handle pages wearing gloves, it’s easier to tear the pages. They now just wash their hands and dry them thoroughly to remove the oils and moisture from them.


17 posted on 07/20/2018 4:58:36 PM PDT by FrdmLvr
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: FrdmLvr

Interesting. Thanks.


18 posted on 07/20/2018 5:07:23 PM PDT by Bigg Red (The USA news industry, the MSM-13, takes a machete to the truth. {h/t TigersEye})
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Red Badger
. . . written in Arabic using Hebrew letters, with Latin and old Spanish notes on the edges . . .
19 posted on 07/21/2018 8:18:39 AM PDT by Oatka
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Bigg Red

Staged picture.......................


20 posted on 07/23/2018 6:14:25 AM PDT by Red Badger (July 2018 - the month the world discovered the TRUTH......Q Anon)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-24 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
General/Chat
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson