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The artificial intelligence is looking for unknown monks

The artificial intelligence is looking for unknown monks

When the monasteries of Heiligenkreuz (District of Baden), Zvetl or Klosterneuburg (Tulln District) were founded in Lower Austria in the 12th century, the monks in their regions were the only ones who could read and write. The books they composed or transcribed at that time were handwritten over months or often years of work. Little is known about these scribes, because the monks tried to write in fine handwriting.

We have Charlemagne to thank for the fact that writing in early handwritten books looked so uniform, and it was he who advocated clarity, uniformity, and simplicity of calligraphy. Therefore these letters are called Carolingian minuscules. This meant that the monks in the monasteries retreated behind their work and remained largely anonymous.

Only one “Otto” is known

“There is only one writer who calls himself by name at this time. This is the writer Otto, but we don’t know anyone else’s name,” Martin Haltrich, head librarian at Klosterneuburg Abbey, explains to noe.ORF.at. Medieval scribes were, as it were, the abbey’s typewriters. They tried to write as evenly and evenly as possible, ”adds Markus Seidel, head of the study on “creative computing” at Sankt Pölten University of Applied Sciences.

Unlike movies, such as the one depicted in The Name of the Rose, it was not written by candlelight. The flames were very dangerous for parchment or paper. And the work of the scribes was difficult, since they were not allowed to put the heel of their hand on the paper. “There are some accounts of medieval writers describing their conditions. Then they say three fingers move and the rest hurt,” said Martin Haltrich of Klosterneuburg Monastery. He is also surprised that one does not notice in the text the point at which the writer returned to the inkwell to continue writing.

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A computer program that keeps learning

Despite the equality and accuracy, one can conclude different writers. Then these abbreviations are given. An example of this is the writer A30, a monk who was very productive in his life. So far, computer analysis has given many facets to it.

With today’s computer analysis, many common details can be recorded to within a tenth of a millimeter: how far the author places his characters from a precisely drawn baseline, for example, the various letter connections, and the style, i.e. how the writer tilts his handwriting, how it swings or How to “live” writing. Markus Seidl of the Creative Computing course explains that the most amazing thing is that AI keeps learning.

Hustle and bustle among writers

Each page and each writer is assigned a box and color in a handwritten book—also called a manuscript binder. At the end, you can see from the multicolored pattern how many different writers may have worked on a book. If there are many colored boxes in a row, the book will often take turns. For example, young monks may have tried their hand at some book and the work wasn’t very important.

The starting point was the previous search results of paleontologists, writing analysts, and in the end the experts again decided on controversial questions. “We are happy to support scientists in dealing with the huge amount of pages and books that need to be examined,” says university lecturer Seidl happily.

With 1,250 handwritten books, the Klosterneuburg Abbey Library is the largest in the Western world. Already 250,000 pages have been digitized and are being progressively processed using a computer aided process. The project, unique in the world, will continue after completion in other monasteries, for example in Admont Abbey in Styria.

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