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Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World's Oldest Continuously Run Libraries (smithsonianmag.com) 164

Saint Catherine's Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world's oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there -- some of which contain hidden treasures. An anonymous reader shares a report: Now, a team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Many of these original texts were written in languages well known to researchers -- Latin, Greek, Arabic -- but others were inscribed in long-lost languages that are rarely seen in the historical record. Manuscripts with multiple layers of writing are known as palimpsests, and there are about 130 of them at St. Catherine's Monastery, according to the website of the Early Manuscript Electronic Library, which has been leading the initiative to uncover the original texts. With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christian sites in the Sinai Desert began to disappear, and Saint Catherine's found itself in relative isolation. Monks turned to reusing older parchments when supplies at the monastery ran scarce. To uncover the palimpsests' secret texts, researchers photographed thousands of pages multiple times, illuminating each page with different-colored lights. They also photographed the pages with light shining onto them from behind, or from an oblique angle, which helped "highlight tiny bumps and depressions in the surface," Gray writes. They then fed the information into a computer algorithm, which is able to distinguish the more recent texts from the originals.
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Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World's Oldest Continuously Run Libraries

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  • You can lift multiple layers of writing from a piece of paper.
    • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @09:07AM (#55147521) Homepage
      Not exactly. Palimpsets are on parchment not paper, and the method works in part because classical methods of writing used thick ink that was there for a long time which was then scraped away. Doing this with modern ink on a piece of paper is a very different story.
      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
        Don't be such a spoil-sport. In part, this methodology succeeds because it also takes angled pictures of the medium and that enables it to isolate depressions and take those into account when analyzing the writing. (I did read TFA - sorry, won't happen again)
  • Once again AI is robbing researchers of jobs. Once upon a time this would have been done by university researchers, now AI is cheaper, better, and faster.
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @09:11AM (#55147543) Homepage
    These are languages where we have some pre-existing examples and vocab. It isn't like these are languages which were until now completely unknown. From TFA:

    But perhaps the most intriguing finds are the manuscripts written in obscure languages that fell out of use many centuries ago. Two of the erased texts, for instance, were inked in Caucasian Albanian, a language spoken by Christians in what is now Azerbaijan. According to Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura, Caucasian Albanian only exists today in a few stone inscriptions. Michael Phelps, director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, tells Gray of the Atlantic that the discovery of Caucasian Albanian writings at Saint Catherine’s library has helped scholars increase their knowledge of the language’s vocabulary, giving them words for things like “net” and “fish.”

    Other hidden texts were written in a defunct dialect known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic, a mix of Syriac and Greek, which was discontinued in the 13th century only to be rediscovered by scholars in the 18th century.

    Of course, with sea related words discovered, the obvious line of jokes is to connect this with the Deep Ones, Dagon and Cthulhu. No doubt, the true horror in the more obscure texts is being kept quiet, possibly known only to the Laundry and the Black Chamber.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      I enjoy the irony of a non-swimmer Michael Phelps discussing sea/water related vocabulary.
  • ...that Islam is a relatively new religion in the Middle East, and that both Judaism and Christianity predated it by centuries? How can that be?

    • It's OK, eventually some fanatical Muslim group will destroy that blasphemous evidence and the next generation won't know it ever existed.

      • Just like Christian fanatics burned all books related to Cthulhu?

        • Sure. But my example was selected for the region and the current risk.

    • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
      ...that Christianity is a relatively new religion in the Middle East, and that Judaism predates it by almost a millennia? How can that be?
      • "A millennia"? And here I thought "millennia" was the plural of "millennium"....
        • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
          Sorry, i originally thought it was closer to two millennia, but i did some fact checking before hitting the submit button and failed to update the grammar to match.
        • "A millennia"? And here I thought "millennia" was the plural of "millennium"....

          No a thousand years is about right. That is what there is evidence for, the rest is religion.

      • ...that Christianity is a relatively new religion in the Middle East, and that Judaism predates it by almost a millennium? How can that be?

        ...that Christianity^H^H^H^H^H^H Judaism is a relatively new religion in the Middle East, and that Judaism^H^H^H^H^H^H the Sumerian pantheon predates it by almost two millennia? How can that be?

        ...that Judaism^H^H^H^H^H^H the Sumerian pantheon is a relatively new religion in the Middle East, and that the Sumerian pantheon^H^H^H^H^H^H the GÃbekli Tepe religion pred

    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @10:36AM (#55147925) Journal

      It's still about 1,400 years old, as opposed to Christianity which is about 2,000 years old. Judaism as we know it is really a merger of the ancient Hebrew monotheistic faith and Aristotlean thought, so is maybe two or three hundred years older than Christianity.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Depends on who you ask.

      According to the Muslims and Christians, Islam started when Abraham sent away his son Ishmael he had made with his sex slave and his son Isaac started Judaism. Judaism eventually became Christianity.

      According to scientific evidence we have (which is sparse), all the religions in that region started from the pantheon of gods of various sheep herders that eventually streamlined into the different branches we now know. They all claim the same god and ancestry and they all can be traced b

      • Depends on who you ask.

        According to the Muslims and Christians, Islam started when Abraham sent away his son Ishmael he had made with his sex slave and his son Isaac started Judaism. Judaism eventually became Christianity.

        According to scientific evidence we have (which is sparse), all the religions in that region started from the pantheon of gods of various sheep herders that eventually streamlined into the different branches we now know. They all claim the same god and ancestry and they all can be traced back to the same groups of people with similar religions, so to say one came first is dishonest.

        Just because that's when it's claimed it "started" doesn't mean that's when it actually did. Muhammad created Islam in the early 7th century when he claimed Gabriel spoke to him, and created the retro history of the religion in writing the Quran. There is no mention of Allah or Islam prior to this.
        Even the official religion of Christianity didn't actually begin in Jesus's time, who was a jew, (and would self-identify as such) it took several decades after Paul and the other apostles wrote their gospels. T

        • In college, I took a "History of Religions" course which the professor started with telling us that we'd most likely be offended at some point, but he was giving us a historical perspective, not a religious one. One of the interesting things I picked up in that course was that the historical Jesus actually advocated for stricter laws. He was a rabbi (teacher) among many, many of the time and thought that sin was incurred not only if you DID an action, but if you thought about doing it. For example, there's

          • f this is actually true (I've never independently verified this), Jesus would be appalled at Christianity today since they've ditched most of the Jewish laws.

            I was under the impression that the disease of Christianity was invented by someone called Paul some decades after the alleged death of the alleged Jesus, to try to rationalise his psychotic imaginations. And he was very explicit that for someone following his version of mumbo-jumbo, it did not matter if they followed some of the laws of Judaism.

            Of co

            • Well, you've also got to remember that there were a ton of rabbis on the fringe of Judaism at that time. There were probably dozens of "Jesuses" who attracted followers, got the attention of the Romans (who were okay with Judaism being practiced as long as nobody got too noisy), and were executed only for their followers to disperse. If a historical Jesus did exist, he was like all these other rabbis except, after his death, his followers kept "following" him until this Judaism fringe group spawned its own

      • It's an interesting archeological research project that sadly even media like National Geographic or PBS seldom covers because they don't want to piss anyone off with reality.

        Actually, I recently saw a fantastic PBS documentary on the birth of Judaism, which pointed out that Abraham picked up his monotheistic faith and the name of Yahweh from somewhere in Arabia, and how Yahweh worship was used as an agrarian revolution among the lower orders of the Caananites which overturned the nobility there. There was no "exodus" from Egypt, seemingly; rather, the Caananite rulers were vassal kings under the pharaoh, and the leaving of Egypt was really just getting the land out from the Egy

      • Or maybe it's because they've covered it already, and realize it's all extrapolation and speculation.

        No, Christians do not believe Islam started with Ishmael. Christian theologians are familiar with Islam's claim on Ishmael, but realize that the religion was created by Muhammad ibn Abdullah out of tribal legends and what he learned second-hand from Jews and Gnostics.

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @09:19AM (#55147581) Homepage Journal

    With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christian sites in the Sinai Desert began to disappear

    A co-worker has complained to our manager, when I pointed a similar fact out during a conversation.

    The manager then reprimanded me pointing out the company's policy against "harassment" — even though no one on our team is a Muslim.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @09:32AM (#55147621)

      Clearly such "facts" are fake news and the byproduct of white nationalist agitation.

      By repeating such facts you inflame the sensibilities of everyone oppressed by the rise of fascist right-wing movements.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Dude, you are harassing Allah. Your coworker doesn't want to be caught in the wrath that is meant for you.

    • by liquid_schwartz ( 530085 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @10:23AM (#55147847)
      Your coworker is a virtue signalling moron. Best to avoid them since they can't handle facts like an adult. On the plus side at least you know who it is.
    • A co-worker has complained to our manager, when I pointed a similar fact out during a conversation.

      Discussing religion in the work setting is dubious. Why would you want to do that anyway?

      The manager then reprimanded me pointing out the company's policy against "harassment"

      Whether the slap on the wrist was justified can only be judged if we had audio recording of the conversation.

      even though no one on our team is a Muslim.

      I'm not sure this makes the situation much better. If all white co-workers were discussing dem-lazy-ni**ers, management might still find it problematic.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Discussing religion in the work setting is dubious. Why would you want to do that anyway?

        Dubious or not, the statement of fact is not harassment. You are blaming the victim.

        even though no one on our team is a Muslim.

        I'm not sure this makes the situation much better.

        Only a follower of a religion can claim being harassed, when the religion is portrayed negatively. Thus, there being no such followers within earshot may not make it "better", but it certainly means, no harassment has taken place.

        If all white co

        • Dubious or not, the statement of fact is not harassment. You are blaming the victim.

          As I pointed out to AC in parallel thread, I don't care about legalities of the situation since there was no official sanction by the manager (at least that is how I read your comment). This is why I don't see you as a victim.

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            since there was no official sanction by the manager

            Three such complaints, however frivolous, and the manager has to escalate the matter to HR. The HR then begins to look into means and ways to get rid of the trouble — me.

            This is why I don't see you as a victim.

            Though I'm not (yet?) a victim of undue firing, I'm already a victim of undue reprimand.

            Now, on the one hand, it is the company's right to fire anybody for any reason — or without a reason at all. On the other hand, they may be forced to

    • by skam240 ( 789197 )

      Of course there's two sides to a story. I've encountered many people who play the victim and paint a compelling picture of victim hood (many I think even believe their own narrative) until you find out the full picture.

      Basically, I think there's likely more to your story than a casual discussion about history as your story doesn't add up.

  • Klingon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @09:23AM (#55147591) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if they'll find some Klingon texts.

    "Today, I am to do battle with this book. I will mercilessly stab the book with my pen, until it dies the final death. On the way to Kahless, it will bleed the appropriate text onto its page-like corpse."

  • researchers have photographed 74 palimpsests, which boast 6,8000 pages between them

    That's a lot.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It was a pretty nice microprocessor too for a while. Then we got the 6,8010, 6,8020, 6,8030, and finally the 6,8040 on the A,miga.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Really their algorithm is AI and has become sentient writing its own languages. Once they finally decode the language they will find its full of "your floppy disk is so small, even if you could upgrade to a hard disk, you still couldn't get an OS to boot with you." Jokes.

    • I thought the AIs mostly focused on 'Yo motherboard' jokes, like 'Yo motherboard so old it's only got ISA slots!' or 'Yo motherboards form factor is double-wide!'

  • by magusxxx ( 751600 ) <magusxxx_2000@yahoo . c om> on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @10:11AM (#55147781)

    Current Text: Jesus wept...
    Recovered Text: ...and said, "Damn those hot wings are spicy!"

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2017 @10:38AM (#55147937)

    With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christian sites in the Sinai Desert began to disappear,

    The same thing is happening now in Europe

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      No it isn't. While secularization has reduced the number of Christians in Europe, the notion of "Christian cities dissappearing" due to Muslim immigration is preposterous. Stop spreading lies.

    • With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Christian sites in the Sinai Desert began to disappear,

      The same thing is happening now in Europe

      Except in this case it's because the Christians are becoming atheists, and there's simply no critical mass (no pun intended) to fill Christian places of worship. I doubt there's anyone under 40 going to the kirk in the village I grew up in.

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders. -- Hal Abelson

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