Ancient Monastery's Hidden Library Unveils Lost Languages and History

Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World’s Oldest Continuously Run Libraries

Deep in the shadow of Mount Sinai, a sacred Christian site known as Saint Catherine's Monastery holds a remarkable secret: a vast collection of ancient texts, some containing hidden messages from the past.

Researchers are using cutting-edge technology to uncover these "palimpsests" - manuscripts where older texts were erased and rewritten on top. Hidden beneath the surface lie forgotten languages, including Caucasian Albanian and Christian Palestinian Aramaic, offering a glimpse into lost cultures.

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Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons

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. “This was an entire community of people who had a literature, art, and spirituality,” Phelps tells Gray. “Almost all of that has been lost, yet their cultural DNA exists in our culture today. These palimpsest texts are giving them a voice again and letting us learn about how they contributed to who we are today.”

Since 2011, researchers have photographed 74 palimpsests, which boast 6,800 pages between them. And the team’s results have been quite astonishing. Among the newly revealed texts, which date from the 4th to the 12th century, are 108 pages of previously unknown Greek poems and the oldest-known recipe attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates.

These discoveries are shedding light on the history of the region and the ingenuity of the monks who preserved knowledge through challenging times. The project's urgency has grown due to recent unrest, highlighting the importance of safeguarding these irreplaceable treasures.

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