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by Archaeology Newsroom

Copying ancient texts

We owe the ancient texts we possess today to the persistent efforts of copyists of all ages, who supplied their intellectual clientele with exact copies of older manuscripts. The actual copying, a challenge in itself, became even more problematic and demanding, when the prototype was old with faded or destroyed writing. The transition from papyrus to parchment and from the majuscule to minuscule writing (9th century AD) were crucial moments for the survival of texts; the new medium and technique demanded special knowledge of older writings and a critical mind during copying. Copying normally took place in organized workshops, where the old manuscripts to be copied were gathered, necessary writing material was provided and the selling of production was guaranteed. Eventually, various technical problems would appear but the invention of new media soon rescued the situation. The writing material originally used was papyrus but its sensitive character and difficulties in provision of it led to the wide use of parchment from the 3rd century. Finally, the industrial production of paper made the use of both, papyrus and parchment impractical and disavantageous and put this new material exclusively into use from the 10th century down to our days. The invention of printing in the 15th century did not bring copying to an end. Te calligraphers continue to exercise their skill either because the provision of printed books was difficult in certain areas or because the request for certain texts had only a limited character. Every manuscript, beyond any other value it may possess, also stands as a unique work of art, sealed with the personality of the individual copyist, who devoted his time to an activity that perhaps was non-creative for him, but invaluable to us, the copying of old manuscripts.