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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter 2017

New Strategies in Using Watermarks to Date Sub-Saharan Islamic Manuscripts

From the book The Arts and Crafts of Literacy

  • Michaelle Biddle


The paper used in all but a handful of surviving sub-Saharan manuscripts in Arabic script is European in origin. The majority of these manuscripts are undated. From the beginning of European paper production watermarks have been used to indicate a paper’s origin. For several centuries these European watermarks have been used to date and authenticate manuscripts by matching a watermark found in undated manuscripts with an identical or similar watermark found in a dated sources, usually European, or sometimes Ottoman. Because very few of the watermarks found in sub-Saharan manuscripts appear in these European and Ottoman sources, this approach has been of limited use in dating African manuscripts. Using recent field research on northern Nigerian manuscripts, this paper explores how a holistic interdisciplinary approach combining traditional techniques with those of material cultural analysis and with historical archaeology can provide mill source and dating information. These strategies led to the identification of several mills that produced previously unidentified watermarks and the development of a chronology for Galvani mill papers.

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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