Researchers have discovered a series of secret scribbles and sketches that were included on a medieval manuscript more than 1,200 years ago. The hidden marks, made without ink, were found in the pages of an early medieval book at an Oxford University library in England.
Researchers believe the signs represent the work of an educated woman at a time when only the elite could read and write. Many of these scribbles include the English female name Eadburg, which researchers believe is the identity of the person who made the notes.
While the meaning of the nearly invisible sketches in the book’s pages is not clear—in any case, they depict a person with outstretched arms walking toward another person who raises a hand as if to stop them—researchers believe that Eadburg wrote his name to highlight passages of the text, a Latin copy of the “Acts of the Apostles” made in southern England between AD 700 and 750, according to Live Science.
Deciphering the manuscript, possible with the help of current technological methods
“We have currently identified five instances where Eadburg’s name was written in full on five different pages of the manuscript. Other abbreviated forms of the name – including E, EAD or EADB – were found in the margins of these and other pages dozens of other times,” explained Jessica Hodgkinson, a PhD student in history at the University of Leicester, UK.
Hodgkinson spotted the name Eadburg, preceded by a cross, while studying the manuscript in the Weston Library, which is part of Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries. The manuscript was then studied using imaging technology.
The researchers revealed the hidden words and drawings on the rare manuscript using a method called stereo photometric recording, which examines the manuscript under different lighting conditions to build a 3D model of its surface.
Such inkless markings, known as “drypoint”, have also been found in other early medieval manuscripts, but they often consist of simple crosses to highlight sections of text.
But Eadburg’s additions to the manuscript are “unusual and interesting.” “They include a woman’s name several times, including as part of a longer inscription that may have been written in the Old English vernacular, alongside a number of intriguing drawings,” Hodgkinson said.
A medieval manuscript
It is not possible to know whether Eadburg herself made the notes, but it is the most likely scenario.
She believes the additions highlight areas that intrigued the writer.
“Inscriptions were intentional and deliberate additions made by a reader interacting with the text. It’s much less likely that these were scribbles or graffiti,” Hodgkinson added.
Researchers hope to learn more about the mysterious writings and drawings, and perhaps even who Eadburg was. One candidate is a woman named Eadburg who was abbess of a female religious community in the mid-8th century, but there are at least eight other candidates.