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New manuscripts and forgotten languages discovered in Sinai

©Pedro Costa Gomes / AFP

For archaeologists, the Monastery of Saint Catherine is the gift that keeps on giving.

This past July, during some restoration works in the library of Saint Catherine Monastery in Egypt, a rare manuscript containing medical texts by Hippocrates was found. The manuscript citing the work of the famous Greek physician dates to the 5th or 6th century.

Now, some experts hail “a new golden age of discovery” in the Southern Sinai monastery — the oldest continuously operating library in the world. Some of the world’s most ancient written works have been found in the library thanks to new technology that allows researchers to “read” and reconstruct documents that otherwise would seem illegible. Most parchments in antiquity were used over and over, with older writing scraped off and new texts written on top. The older texts were never completely effaced, but the traces left behind, known as palimpsest, were unable to be read by the naked eye. This new method allows the reconstruction of documents that have long ago been scrubbed off parchment, and is revealing texts written in ancient languages such as Caucasian Albanian.

According to the note published by Tom Whipple for The Times, “the techniques being developed meant that lost classical texts, including those by thinkers such as Aristotle, could now be found hiding in plain sight on parchments in libraries across the world.”

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