“Creepy” is the first word that comes to mind when viewing this historic discovery.Â “The Black Book of Carmarthen,” dating to 1250, contains texts from the ninth through 12th centuries, including some of the earliest references to Arthur and Merlin. The book itself is extraordinary, but researchers had no idea what they were about to find once they took a closer look. Â Ghostly faces and lines of verse previously invisible to the naked eye have been uncovered in the oldest surviving medieval manuscript written entirely in Welsh.
“It’s easy to think we know all we can know about a manuscript like the ‘Black Book,’ but to see these ghosts from the past brought back to life in front of our eyes has been incredibly exciting,” Myriah Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. “The drawings and verse that we’re in the process of recovering demonstrate the value of giving these books another look.”
Sir John Williams, the founder of the National Library of Wales, bought the book in the year 1904.Â Myriah Williams and Paul Russell, a professor at Cambridge’s department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC), Â recently examined its pages.
“The margins of manuscripts often contain medieval and early modern reactions to the text, and these can cast light on what our ancestors thought about what they were reading,” Williams explained. “The ‘Black Book’ was particularly heavily annotated before the end of the 16th century.”
Williams and Russell said they think a man named Jaspar Gryffyth, a 16th-century owner of the book who copied his name in Hebrew onto the book, likely erased such “reactions.” These verses and doodles would’ve been added to the manuscript over centuries as it was passed from one owner to another.
Using UV light and photo-editing software, Williams and Russell revealed glimpses of some of the erased doodles. For instance, page fol. 39v of the newly visible work includes ghostly faces and a line of text accompanying them, which date to the 14th or 15th century, Williams said. On the following page, fol. 40v, a full verse, possibly dating to the 13th century, came to light. “There is one more drawing so far that we are still working on,” Williams said.
“What we have discovered may only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can be discovered as imaging techniques are enhanced,” Russell said in the statement. “The manuscript is extremely valuable and incredibly important â€” yet there may still be so much we don’t know about it.”
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