St. Catherine’s monastery in Sinai desert has become a research center for the cutting edge technology of digitalizing ancient scriptures. The monastery is the second-oldest continuously running library of the world, after the Vatican.
The leader of the monks, Father Justin, asked for the help of Michael Toth, a leading expert of digitalizing ancient manuscript. The team has discovered so far scripts dating 1200 years back. The main target of the team though is not so young.
The team is there to digitalize and discover the palimpsest scriptures. Palimpsest is a piece of papyrus which is written over. While papyrus was widely used, it was difficult and expensive for writers to buy new pieces whenever they wanted. Therefore they used the old ones and wrote over previous texts. This is what Toth and his team is focusing on, taking pictures of older texts being written in scriptures and papyrus which belong to the monastery and try to bring them in surface.
Toth and his team have more than 10 years experience trying to digitalize pictures and texts written in surfaces which have been already erased and overwritten. The monastery was built in 550 A.D. by Emperor Justinian and it is estimated to hold more than 3,300 old scriptures and pictures. Up to now the digitalizing procedure has revealed more than nine different languages written in different parts of scriptures, showing that the monastery used to be a point for academics more than a millennium ago.
The first findings will be presented in 2013 while some first findings will be sent this autumn to 18 experts on ancient languages. Most scripts are in the old Aramaic language of the 3rd-Century A.D. up to the 8th-Century, a language which was dead when writers overwrote the papyrus. The fact that the language was dead then was the main reason that writers chose to overwrite it.Up to now 130 texts have been recognized.
Most of them are religious texts but among the non-religious is a medicine text which might be the oldest known text on medicine. The technology used brings together different aspects of science, mainly related to x-ray and physics. The equipment uses x-ray and other forms of light to create the print of the text which is overwritten.The problem is that sometimes some texts were overwritten twice making the work of the team even harder. The scientific community and the whole world is watching what the new discoveries of the team will bring to light.