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Palimpsests: The Art of  Medieval Recycling
The art of recycling — re-using waste materials to reduce consumption of fresh raw materials — may seem alien in a medieval context. Yet when it comes to writing, past peoples were often much more sparing than many of us today.


Miniature of the Evangelist Luke writing, in a 12th-century Gospel-book, Add MS 5112, f. 3r

Producing papyrus sheets or parchment volumes was not an easy or cheap endeavour. In order to produce a complete Bible on parchment, the skins of approximately 200 sheep may have been needed. One way to save parchment was to write the words and sentences continuously with no punctuation at all. This might have made reading more difficult and open to misunderstanding, but it definitely saved space.


Detail of continuous script in the columns of the Codex Sinaiticus, Eastern Mediterranean (Palestine?), 4th century, Add MS 43725, f. 252r

Another way to save parchment and papyrus was to reuse it. Papyrus scrolls were usually written on o…