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ETHIO-SPARE — Result In Brief

Project ID: 240720
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Digital conservation and study of Ethiopia's ancient manuscript treasures

Ethiopia's abundantly rich manuscript culture dates back to the Late Antiquity, but it is in danger of disappearing quickly if action is not taken. An EU initiative set out to reverse this course.
Digital conservation and study of Ethiopia's ancient manuscript treasures
Ethiopia's monasteries and churches still keep an estimated 200 000 manuscripts documenting the country's ancient Christian history. These manuscripts, hold in the traditional ecclesiastic libraries, are currently getting more and more endangered. Most of them remain unrecorded and unstudied.

With this in mind, the EU-funded ETHIO-SPARE (Cultural heritage of Christian Ethiopia: Salvation, preservation and research) project aimed at recording and studying those manuscripts, and ensuring their digital preservation.

The ETHIO-SPARE team visited and studied the libraries of over 100 ecclesiastical sites, some of which are unknown to the academic community. It digitized about 2 000 mostly unknown manuscripts. It identified several lesser-known regions that are considered important for the study of Ethiopian history and manuscript culture.

The team members photographed art items, conducted interviews with local connoisseurs of history and with scribes, and made analysis of historical inks used in the manuscripts. The regular application of GPS helped to achieve the new state in our knowledge of the Ethiopian cultural landscape. Some endangered sites were measured and modelled in 3D to ensure that they are digitally preserved for the future.

An online database was set up that provides descriptions of the ecclesiastical libraries and their collections, including over 1 000 catalogued manuscripts, and structured descriptions and images of more than 130 art items.

The field conservation program of ETHIO-SPARE resulted in conservation and reconstruction of the original shape of a few valuable manuscripts. The storage facilities of seven ecclesiastical libraries were extensively upgraded. Various church members and state authorities received intensive training in uncovering and recording the cultural treasures of Ethiopia. Cooperation with and information exchange between continuing research initiatives contributed to the exploration of key historical sites and their promotion as possible tourist attractions.

ETHIO-SPARE brought to light multitudes of previously unknown written resources. In doing so, it provides a window on Ethiopia's rich Christian heritage for all the world to see. Scores of essays published by the project members contributed to the studies of the Oriental and African manuscript cultures.

Related information


Manuscript studies, digital conservation, Ethiopia, ETHIO-SPARE, cultural heritage
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