the false definition of palaeography as simply writing analysis

Steven Avery

Brent Nongbri

Palaeography, the analysis of handwriting,
is, for better or worse, the main way that we assign dates to undated ancient manuscripts. This method can work reasonably well when you have lots of examples with exact dates—you can make informed comparisons of undated samples of handwriting with dated samples. Unfortunately, securely dated samples of “literary” Greek handwriting of the Roman era are not as numerous as we would like. Competent palaeographers thus hesitate to give highly specific dates, usually allowing at least a 50-year window. And there are good reasons to think that window should be even wider, up to a century or more. To name just three: First of all, ancient scribes could have pretty long working lives, 30-50 years. Second, similarities in writing style were, unsurprisingly, passed from teachers to students and thus persisted for multiple generations. And finally, ancient scribes were perfectly capable of writing in different styles that we associate with different time periods (for detailed evidence of these claims, you can see a recent article of mine on the topic here). So palaeography doesn’t give us such specific dates

What Do Paleographers Do?
Éloïse Lemay | August 23, 2013

Paleography is the study of old handwriting. Paleographers are specialists who decipher, localize, date, and edit ancient and medieval texts—those written by hand, before the advent of print—making them available for others to read and understand.


Thus, in the true definition, the writing is only one element.
The study of ancient writing systems and the deciphering and dating of historical manuscripts.
‘To do so, she learned Italian and Latin, and studied paleography.’
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