A Student of History

July 26, 2006

Irish equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 4:49 pm

From the Associated Press, via HNN:

Irish archaeologists Tuesday heralded the discovery of an ancient book of psalms by a construction worker who spotted something while driving the shovel of his backhoe into a bog.

The approximately 20-page book has been dated to the years 800-1000. Trinity College manuscripts expert Bernard Meehan said it was the first discovery of an Irish early medieval document in two centuries.

“This is really a miracle find,” said Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland, which has the book stored in refrigeration and facing years of painstaking analysis before being put on public display.

“There’s two sets of odds that make this discovery really way out. First of all, it’s unlikely that something this fragile could survive buried in a bog at all, and then for it to be unearthed and spotted before it was destroyed is incalculably more amazing.”

The BBC has several pictures of this, including the one below, here.

The full story is here.

From the National Museum in Ireland, we get this web article:

In discovery terms this Irish equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls is being hailed by the Museum’s experts as the greatest find ever from a European bog. Fragments of what appear to be an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms were uncovered by a bulldozer in a bog in the south Midlands. It is impossible to say how the manuscript ended up in the bog. It may have been lost in transit or dumped after a raid, possibly more than a thousand to twelve hundred years ago.

The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr Pat Wallace, commented that “it is not so much the fragments themselves, but what they represent, that is of such staggering importance. In my wildest hopes, I could only have dreamed of a discovery as fragile and rare as this. It testifies to the incredible richness of the Early Christian civilisation of this island and to the greatness of ancient Ireland.”

Congratulating the Museum on the discovery, the promptness of its report, and the action of the finders, the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, John O’ Donoghue TD, said “this most fortunate of discoveries testifies to the high achievements of our Early Christian civilisation and to the responsibility of the present generation in the preservation of our unparalleled legacy from the past”. He wished the Museum well in the conservation of the manuscript and looked forward to its display in the Early Christian gallery of the Museum where it will have a fitting place alongside the Ardagh chalice and the Derrynaflan paten.

Extensive fragments of what appear to be an Irish Early Christian Psalter, written on vellum, were recovered from the bog last Thursday. The manuscript was brought to the National Museum’s conservation laboratory on Friday by the Director (Pat Wallace), the Keeper of Irish Antiquities (Eamonn Kelly), and the Head of Conservation (Rolly Read). The pages appear to be those of a slim, large format book with a wraparound vellum or leather cover from which the book block has slipped.

Raghnall Ó Floinn, Head of Collections at the Museum, estimates that there are about 45 letters per line and a maximum of 40 lines per page. While part of Psalm 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory.

Dr Bernard Meehan, Head of Manuscripts at TCD, has seen the discovery and has been invited to advise on the context and background of the manuscript, its production, and its time. He reckons that this is the first discovery of an Irish Early Medieval manuscript in two centuries. Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800 AD. How soon after this date it was lost we may never know.


  1. Wow, really amazing story – can’t wait to see them when they’re restored…

    Comment by John Y — August 1, 2006 @ 2:21 am | Reply

  2. […] This past summer, I posted on an ancient psalter found in a peat bog in Ireland, which made quite a splash in the news media.  Since that time, The National Museum of Ireland issued the following statement to clear up any misconceptions of what could be read in the incredible find: […]

    Pingback by Irish Psalter Clarification « A Student of History — December 7, 2006 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

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