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Woman’s Name and Tiny Sketches Found in 1,300-Year-Old Medieval Text was Hidden for 12 Centuries

Human beings have a well-known urge to leave marks of our passing on things we interact with, and a new state-of-the-art 3D scan of a Medieval manuscript has shown just that.

“Eadburg” was her name; an 8th century scribe translating the Acts of the Apostles during the Monastic period in England from Latin into Old English, who left her name and several stick-figure like drawings on the manuscript.

Questions abound—she used no ink, only the dry point of her quill; her full name was etched into the manuscript’s margins five times, while abbreviations appear another ten times.

The 3D imaging of the manuscript was carried out at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, under the work of the ARCHiOx Project of using a new technology to scan many of the library’s most treasured artifacts for exactly this kind of hidden information.

“It’s a hugely significant and very powerful text—the word of God, conveyed through the apostles. And I think that might be at least part of the reason why somebody chose to write Eadburg’s name into it, so that she was close to that,” said Jessica Hodgkinson, a Ph.D. student at the University of Leicester who made the discovery.

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The manuscript also includes two doodles—there’s no other way to describe them—of a person with outstretched arms and a second who is turning their back on the first, with a hand raised in protest trailing behind.

Hodgkinson hopes to study the names and doodles further in the coming months, as well as perhaps try to pinpoint who Eadburg might have been.

Since those who could speak and write both Old English and Latin were among the most educated in society during the 8th century, it’s possible records of the woman scribe exist, in particular, Hodgkinson has found, an abbess from Kent with the same name.

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“We don’t know all that much about Eadburg, but now, because of this amazing technology, we’ve seen her name, we know she was there,” said Hodgkinson. “She’s here, in this book —and it speaks across the centuries.”

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