Doodles from a child or a nun trying to explain her life?
Thanks to a new imaging technology at the Bodleian Library, a series of doodles and secret, invisible messages were discovered in a 1,300-year-old book.
Researcher Jessica Hodgkinson at the University of Leicester used this technology, which can map the physical texture of a book page or manuscript and reveal features you can’t see with the naked eye (like scratches made by a pen without ink, for example), to analyze the document, an 8-th century copy of the Act of Apostles from the New Testament.
“The digital annotation is applied at the exact position where it was recorded using photometric stereo technology.”
Images via the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book
“The letters they found read “EaDBURG BIREð CǷ….N,” which prompted the researcher to suspect that the doodler was named Eadburg, since the same name was also scribbled on four other pages.
“Not much is known about her, but Hodgkinson and colleagues suspect that Eadburg was a nun – the abbess of a religious community at Minster-in-Thanet, in the English county of Kent.
The subsequent letters were a bit more enigmatic: could it mean “bears cwærtern” – the Old English word for “prison”? The Latin passage it accompanies describes the imprisonment of the Apostles, so Eadburg might have been drawing a parallel with her own situation.
Even more intriguing, Hodgkinson and colleagues found drawings of little people on other pages. In one margin, a square figure with outstretched arms – could it be a nun perhaps? (see below, top-left). In another, a person holding up their hand to the face of glum companion (bottom-right). An 8th-Century version of “talk to the hand”? Their meaning is a mystery,” explains the BBC.
The same outlet reveals that the Bodleian is now using the new imaging technology on their archive and could discover even more secret messages in ancient scrolls.
You can read more about the fascinating discovery in this Bodleian Libraries Centre blog, which addresses the issue of women being marginalized in history, and find out more about how museums are using 3D imaging technology here.