Paleography

Charles Hedrick joining fragments of Nag Hammadi documents. (BAR vol x no. 1 1984

Paleography is the study of ancient writing. It technically involves the analysis of the handwriting (script) of the ancient manuscripts. The paleographer studies such things as the angles of strokes, density of ink and its composition, and the general style as compared with other handwriting. Such study enables the scholar to detect different handwriting which in some cases may mean a different person has taken over the task of copying or in other cases it represents the work of a corrector of the text. By comparing handwriting styles and other features of a manuscript, the paleographer may be able to date a manuscript.

Other aspects of paleography include the material which was used for writing, the format of those texts, and also the work of those who copied texts preserving the knowledge of antiquity for the sake of posterity.

In the ancient Mediterranean world, people wrote on such items as clay tablets, stone, bone, wood (wood with a layer of wax), leather, various metals, potsherds (ostraca), papyrus, and parchment. The most widely used of this epigraphic potpourri were papyrus and parchment.

Writing not only involves the material upon which one writes, but also the way in which that material is formed. The writing format is controlled by such factors as how much room it takes up and its ease of use and manipulation. There were two main formats in the Greco-Roman world, the roll and the codex. Those who committed themselves to the task of copying -- whether paid professionals or monks in monasteries -- are referred to as scribes.


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