Vatican Palimpsests Digital Recovery of Erased Identities [by A. Németh]


Before having palimpsests tell their stories, let us have a closer look at how this treasure trove came about from its less noble origin as discarded waste of texts. Ancient books were produced to last for a long time, in order to serve multiple generations of readers with attractive contents that satisfy long lasting interests. Durability was guaranteed by the writing surface. Parchment was the most durable, the most expensive and the most appropriate of the various forms of recycling. Parchment was manufactured from the skins of various animal breeds: sheep, calves, and goats. It was durable enough to be used more than once for a range of purposes such as writing, binding, material for protective sheets of the books, or for sewing ties to strengthen the structure of the bound book, etc. However, the readers’ interest in the contents of certain texts did not last as long as did the parchment on which they were written. In such cases, the less attractive text was removed by means of various techniques, allowing the parchment to be newly available for other texts. If the parchment was recycled only for a structural purpose, such as for the binding or protection of the body of the manuscript, the text was often not removed although it no longer was to be read. This pathway focuses on a specific form of recycling, that is, when the old text was removed and the parchment was reused in a context different from that of the original text.

Structure of the medieval book

It is worth taking into account the complex process of the ancient manuscript book and looking at how the production facilitated this process. A manuscript book consists of different parts which have different functions for its use. To make the situation simple, the book body is considered to be read by the reader but most medieval books had other parts as well which had only practical and are not expected to be read. This time, the parchment is recycled as material and they can be palimpsests.