The Scribe’s Choice: Writing Supports in Arabic Documents of the Early Islamic Centuries
The first five centuries of Islam are very interesting for manuscript studies as they are characterised by a plurality of writing materials. In particular, papyrus, parchment and paper – the latter from the middle of the 8th century – were used as writing supports.
Coexistence of different writing supports and inks sparks a number of questions: Were they used interchangeably? Was one material preferred over others for specific purposes? How quickly did paper substitute papyrus and parchment? How did scribes choose a writing support: for practical reasons such as price, availability and performance, or because of tradition and cultural norms? Did book forms and formats depend on the choice of a certain writing surface? Is there a connection between the ink type and a writing surface?
To address these questions, this project conducts codicological and material studies of a selection of two hundred Arabic documents from various areas of Egypt, dated between the seventh and eleventh century, using an array of analytical non-invasive or micro-destructive techniques. Findings will be compared both to a smaller number of manuscripts containing literary texts (which are usually undated), and fragments of diverse materials originating from areas outside Egypt. Next to the material analyses conducted in this project, cooperation with papyrologist Naïm Vanthieghem (IRHT Paris) will provide insight into matters of production, contents and contexts. The inks and writing supports used by other cultures in Egypt (mainly Coptic, Hebrew and Greek), and the papers used in Central Asia during the same period will be compared to the fragments analysed in this project. Furthermore, investigations in this project benefit greatly from cooperation with further experts from archaeometry, paper history, and papyrus conservation.