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Georgian Palimpsest Manuscripts

A palimpsest is a manuscript page from which the text has been scraped or washed off and which can be used again. The first layer of the parchment as well as the second one are lisible, making it possible to access older sources of biblical texts. Georgian palimpsests are preserved in museums in Georgia and abroad, including European university libraries.

A three-year German-French-Georgian scientific project “Georgian Palimpsest Manuscripts” was financed by the Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung) in 2009. The scientific project is being implemented under the guidance of Professors Jost Gippert and Manana Tandashvili from the Goethe University Frankfurt (Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main). From the Georgian side the project is co-managed by Professor Darejan Tvaltvadze of the TSU Faculty of Humanities and Professor Davit Lortkipanidze, the director of the Simon Janashia Georgian National Museum; from the French side – Professor Bernard Outtier. It should be noted that Professor Jost Gippert and Professor Bernard Outtier are Honorary Doctors of the Tbilisi State University. The project also involves researchers from laboratory “Orion” of the TSU Faculty of Humanities: Doctors of Philology, Manana Machkhaneli and Elguja Giunashvili; Doctorates Sopio Sarjveladze and Eka Kvirkvelia; Masters Tsitsino Guledani, as well as the employees of the Georgian National Museum: Giorgi Partskhaladze and Darejan Gogashvili.

The aim of the project is to convert palimpsests to digital format and treat them using modern technological devices, in particular a multispectral device MUSIS (Multinational Space-based Imaging System for Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Observation) so that the under layers of palimpsests become clearer and to make it easier to decipher the writing with ultraviolet light.

The idea for the “Georgian Palimpsest Manuscripts” project first emerged after successful implementation of a fruitful joint international Georgian-German-French scientific project “Palimpsests of Caucasian Origin”. Along with the group of researchers from the National Center of Manuscripts led by Professor Zaza Aleksidze, a group of researchers from the TSU Faculty of Humanities also participated in the project. In 2007 Brepols Publishers published the materials resulting from the project, in a famous series called Monumenta Paleographica Medii Aevi – the texts of Georgian palimpsests kept at the Vienna National Library (The old Georgian Palimpsest, Codex Vindobonesis Georgicus 2, edited by Jost Gippert) and the Albanian and Armenian texts of palimpsests discovered at Mount Sinai (The Caucasian Albanian Palimpsests of Mount Sinai, edited by Jost Gippert, Wolfgang Schulze, Zaza Aleksidze, Jean-Pierre Mane).

The project “Georgian Palimpsest Manuscripts” is a continuation of that project within which Georgian and European researchers have carried out multispectral processing of several Georgian palimpsest manuscripts kept in Georgia and beyond its limits. The materials obtained during the scientific trip to Svaneti in August-September 2010 are of significant importance. The images from manuscripts kept in the Svanetian villages of Lakhamula, Kurashi, Lakhushti and Etseri were photographed with the help of technical means provided by the Volkswagen Foundation. Several palimpsest manuscripts kept at the Svaneti History and Ethnography Museum were processed, as a result of which a collection of old Georgian canons was discovered on its lower layer, particularly the fragments of ancient versions of irmos.

The results of the research were explained in an article by Darejan Tvaltvadze and Sophio Sarjveladze “The Tviberi Manuscript of the Svaneti History and Ethnography Museum”, which was published in 2011 in a joint collection, Folia Caucasica, by the Goethe University Frankfurt and Tbilisi State University, and dedicated to the anniversary of Jost Gippert. A journal Le Museon will publish the text of the Kurashi Gospels for the first time. There will also be an article about the essence of the lower layer of this palimpsest manuscript.

The project “Georgian Palimpsest Manuscripts” will come to an end in 2013 and final results will be published in the next volume of Monumenta Paleographica Medii Aevi and presented to a wide circle of scientists.  Plans are underway to publish the palimpsest manuscript (M5) kept at the Svaneti History and Ethnography Museum, a part of the N2 manuscript written in the Nuskhuri alphabet, a N5 manuscript kept at the Paris National Library as well as other palimpsest fragments studied within the framework of the project.