Jubilees Palimpsest

The Jubilees Palimpsest Project

Pioneering the Recovery of Illegible Text from Ancient Manuscripts Through New Tools in Digital Archaeology


Overview of Project Contributions

Overview of Project Goals

Resources and Links


Older news is available in the News Archive (LINK).

Open Image Repository

Although the Jubilees Palimpsest provided the original impetus for the Jubilees Palimpsest Project, it subsequently became clear that the tools of digital archaeology could have a far greater impact if applied systematically to the tens of thousands of unreadable manuscripts already in libraries and museums. The following palimpsests at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, particularly those acquired from the Bobbio, have been identified as the top priority for advanced imaging.

Early Judaism and Christianity

  1. Latin Jubilees (80 pages, LDAB 7663), captured 2017, basic images published, advanced images in progress.
  2. Testament of Moses (16 pages, LDAB 7663), captured 2017, basic images published, advanced images in progress.
  3. Arian Commentary on Luke (48 pages, LDAB 7662), captured 2017, basic images published, advanced images in progress.
  4. Ascension of Isaiah (58 pages, LDAB 7375)
  5. Gothic Commentary on the Gospel of John / Skeireins (16 pages, LDAB 10984)
  6. Unidentified Greek Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (210 pages, LDAB 128487), five sample pages captured and published 2017
  7. Juvencus, Evangeliorum Libri Quattuor (148 pages, E 57 Sup)

Biblical Literature

  1. Origen, Hexapla (112 pages, O 39 Sup.), five sample folios captured 2017, processing and publication pending
  2. Synoptic Gospels Fragments Palimpsest (32 pages, Q 6 Sup.)
  3. Ulfila, Gothic Translation of the Book of Nehemiah (6 pages, LDAB 108085)
  4. Ulfila, Gothic Translation of the Gospel of Matthew (4 pages, J 61 Sup.)
  5. Ulfila, Gothic Translation of the Letters of Paul including a Gothic Calendar (356 [212 + 144] pages, LDAB 10684 and LDAB 10685), twenty sample pages captured 2017, processing and publication pending

Greek and Roman Literature and Reception

  1. Bobbio Commentary on Uncertain Work by Cicero (210 pages, LDAB 7372)
  2. Unidentified Palimpsest in Seventh Century Latin Script (6 pages, LDAB 7688)
  3. Fronto, Epistles (34 pages, LDAB 7371)
  4. Symmachus, Orations (62 pages, LDAB 7373)
  5. Pliny the Younger, Panegyric (0 pages [some portion of the 62 counted above], LDAB 7373)
  6. Seneca, Medea and Oedipus (10 pages, LDAB 7695)
  7. Cicero, Fragments (12 pages, LDAB 7713)
  8. Plautus, Fabulae or excerpt Vidularia (464 pages, LDAB 7693)

We also believe that some items in the collection that are not technically palimpsests could benefit from advanced imaging. Furthermore, we suspect there may be more palimpsests in the collection than are currently known. Catalogers may not have noted erased text if it could not be recognized or identified. In some cases, digital archaeology can recover text from manuscripts in which the human eye cannot even tell that the erased layer exists.

Standards-Compliant Viewers and Annotation Workspaces

The images captured and processed by the project are publically available (see section on Permissions below) and comply with open standards for viewing and annotation. There are two basic types of images (with plans for greater convergence on the horizon). The first type consists of static images in a repository following the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) standards (Image and Presentation APIs, LINK). The second type consists of interactive relightable texture images (RTI). Additionally, transcription and translation information is provided in XML as it becomes available (TEI compliance pending). For advanced image processing scientists, the raw data archive is available at palimpsest.stmarytx.edu slash AmbrosianaArchive, but that is not recommended for the vast majority of users.

There are two major viewing environments that support IIIF Presentation manifests with many images per page (canvas). Each has advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Mirador (LINK)
    • Image choice (the ability to switch between different images of the same view) is supported in a branch from UCLA Libraries, and is slated for version 2.5 of the main branch.
    • Synchronizing pan and zoom across two images is possible, although the number of clicks required is high and temporary unsyncing is inconsistent.
    • Better roadmap for allowing users to add their own annotations directly within the environment.
    • Access to interactive texture (WebRTI) images, transcriptions, and translations is possible, but requires turning on annotations and hovering over the squares and rectangles in the image.
    • Keyboard shortcuts for moving between images are not available or planned (to the best of my knowledge).
    • Documentation is needed.
  2. IIIF Navigator (LINK)
    • Better support for image choice with preview icons.
    • Utilizes the browser and operating system to manage tabs and windows.
    • All resources in the IIIF Presentation manifests are readily visible, including interactive texture (WebRTI) links, transcriptions, and translations.
    • Keyboard shortcuts and synchronized windows are not yet implemented.
    • No roadmap for a public annotation store for scholarly collaboration within the environment.
    • Documentation is needed.

Feature lists are constantly changing. Please send updates and corrections to the project director, Todd Hanneken (LINK). For more information see the page dedicated to standards, viewers, and prototypes (LINK).

Reconstruction of the Jubilees Palimpsest

conventional image of page 111 of the Jubilees Palimpsest

It is possible to reconstruct the fifth-century codex containing Latin Jubilees and the Testament of Moses even though more than half of it is now lost (LINK). This is possible by extrapolating from quire numbers, the average number of words per page, and comparison with the Ethiopic recension of Jubilees. For each page we know the corresponding lines in Ethiopic Jubilees. For each preserved page we now have scanned microfilm images (useless for reading, but useful for conservation comparison), the transcription offered by Ceriani (1861), the translation offered by VanderKam (1989), and notes on the cataloging and conservation as of 2011 (some of the bifolia are detached and cataloged contrary to the original structure). Four of the pages were imaged with conventional digital photography in 2011. We also produced an English translation of Ceriani’s introduction in Latin describing the condition of the manuscript and Gryson’s description in French of the codicology of the Arian Commentary on Luke (see About the Jubilees Palimpsest LINK).

This information was used to compose the entry on Latin Jubilees for the Brill Textual History of the Bible. The pre-publisher copy is available here (LINK); the official publication should be consulted for citation.

A reconstruction of the Jubilees Palimpsest is available as three IIIF Presentations, one for each of the three codices from its history. Those are the fifth-century codex of Latin Moses, the sixth-century codex of the Arian Commentary on Luke, and the eighth-century codex of Eugippius’ Anthology of Augustine. As of late 2016 the only known IIIF Presentation viewer to support viewing all the resources for each page of the presentation manifest is the IIIF Navigator (LINK). The placeholder images (the Mandelbrot fractal) will be replaced with advanced images in the first two months of 2017.

Spectral RTI Technology

Spectral RTI Pseudocolor with Raking Light

Spectral RTI combines the advantages of spectral imaging (spatial resolution, color spectrum range and resolution, processed enhancements) with the advantages of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (pixel-level texture mapping, interactivity, enhancements). Spectral is helpful for manuscripts because it recovers traces of erased ink indistinguishable to the human eye. Texture mapping is helpful for manuscripts because it can show the outline of an erased letter in the corrosion on the surface of the parchment, as well as other features of accretion (wax, dirt, glue, other deposits) and depression (scores, punctures, dry-point notations).

In 2013–2014 the National Endowment for the Humanities (Digital Humanities Startup Grant) funded a collaboration of the Jubilees Palimpsest Project with the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and the University of Southern California to test and develop methods to integrate spectral and RTI. The most efficient method uses the standard equipment for spectral imaging and RTI and relies on processing to combine the chrominance features of spectral imaging with the luminance features of RTI.

That phase produced:

  1. A collection of RTI images viewable in WebRTI. The images use the most efficient method of Spectral RTI for objects with varying depths of texture. (LINK)
  2. A twenty-minute video demonstrating the capabilities of Spectral RTI (LINK)
  3. A summary table demonstrating the most efficient method compared with other experimental methods and each technology individually (LINK)
  4. For moderately advanced audiences, a detailed white paper describing the experimental methods, our findings, and information to replicate our procedure (LINK)
  5. For advanced audiences, the original ImageJ Macro used to process the experimental images (LINK), followed by a GitHub repository with a more user-friendly version of the software necessary for processing Spectral RTI (LINK)
  6. For advanced audiences, the complete data set of captured and processed images (LINK)

More information about the Integrating Spectral RTI phase of the Jubilees Palimpsest Project is available on the phase webpage (LINK). See also, “New Technology for Imaging Unreadable Manuscripts and Other Artifacts: Integrated Spectral Reflectance Transformation Imaging (Spectral RTI)” (LINK). For a shorter overview see the entry on “Spectral RTI” planned for the Brill Textual History of the Bible (LINK).

Extended Spectrum Processing

Extended Spectrum is a new processing technique for spectral imaging captures. It utilizes all the captures of spectral imaging (including ultraviolet and infrared) and principal component analysis within the three categories of color natural to the human eye. The result is more natural than pseudocolor but simulates what we would see if human color perception had a wider range and higher resolution. The technique divides the spectral captures into three categories: the shortest wavelengths (blueish), the middle wavelenghts (greenish), and the longest wavelengths (reddish). Principal Component Analysis finds the greatest contrasts in each of the three categories, which are then mapped to the three channels of an RGB image.

USC Mummy Mask in Accurate Color and Extended Spectrum

Roman-Period Egyptian Mummy Mask from the USC Archaeological Museum in Accurate Color (left) and Extended Spectrum (right).

Easy Access to Spectral RTI

The 2013–2014 Integrating Spectral RTI phase demonstrated the feasibility of Spectral RTI using open-source software. The next step is to put the technology in the hands of scholars, museums, and libraries. A three-year project (2016–2019) supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities is making significant progress in this direction. The Spectral RTI Toolkit oversees all the processing with a graphical user interface (without requiring use of command-line arguments or editing text files). Documentation and training will be freely available.

ImageJ Spectral RTI Toolkit, Select Tasks

Specifically, the Spectral RTI Toolkit for ImageJ processes captured images into RTI images (PTM, HSH, or WebRTI) with color enhancements for Accurate Color, Extended Spectrum, and PCA Pseudocolor. The roadmap for development includes usability and documentation improvements, improved performance, platform independence, and integration of open source code. The Spectral RTI Toolkit is available on GitHub, initially as an ImageJ macro and eventually as a plugin.

Documentation and training in various formats will be available through this site. Contact the project director, Todd Hanneken (thanneken@stmarytx.edu) or follow the project on Twitter (@thanneken) to follow the latest development as easy access to Spectral RTI unfolds.

Vision for a Permanent Center for Digital Archaeology

We believe that a permanent center for digital archaeology will create significant added value compared to a series of isolated projects.

  1. First, stable commitments will reduce cost. The costs of digital archaeology are high, but not intrinsically more so than other international and high-tech programs. Traditional archaeology also required international travel, specialized tools, and scholarly expertise.
  2. Second, not only will a stable project reduce costs, it will produce a steady stream of discovery, adding to the “benefit” side of the cost/benefit ratio. All estimates indicate that we will not run out of palimpsests to image in the conceivable future.
  3. Third, a permanent center will create more opportunities to improve the tools of digital archaeology and attempt new techniques across many years. Challenges faced one year can create the agenda for the next year’s excavation.
  4. Fourth, a permanent center will be necessary for the vision described below for mentoring the next generation of digital archaeologists.

We are developing a multi-institution collaboration to achieve these goals. This phase has not yet been funded.

Vision for Advancing and Promoting the Tools of Discovery

In addition to the Spectral RTI Toolkit described above (LINK), the project is working steadily to improve the techniques of Spectral RTI capture, processing, and dissemination.

For more on the state of the art and future horizons see Todd R. Hanneken, “New Technology for Imaging Unreadable Manuscripts and Other Artifacts: Integrated Spectral Reflectance Transformation Imaging (Spectral RTI).” In Ancient Worlds in a Digital Culture. Edited by Claire Clivaz and David Hamidovic. Digital Biblical Studies 1. Leiden: Brill. The pre-publisher copy is available here (LINK); the published version should be consulted for citation.

Vision for Mentoring the Next Generation

All phases of the Jubilees Palimpsest Project include paid student researchers. The vision for the next level of educating the next generation of digital humanists encompasses three categories.

  1. Student researchers will have the option of receiving academic credit for internship by learning the academic context of their practical work.
  2. Student research will be joined to existing programs such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and McNair Scholars program to increase opportunity for faculty mentoring.
  3. Regular courses during the academic year will cover related topics in the digital humanities, archaeology of the book, digital archaeology, ancient and computer languages, and so forth. These courses could lead to an undergraduate minor or graduate certificate in Digital Humanities. These courses could be shared between collaborating institutions using synchronous and hybrid distance learning technologies.

Vision for Scholarly Forums

The image repository is only the beginning of the process of discovery and interpretation in the humanities. We envision four channels in which the global community of scholars will be able to contribute to interpreting the images.

  1. First, Open Annotation will allow scholars anywhere on the web to contribute annotations to the repository. The annotations could be transcriptions, translations, links to scholarly resources, description of scribal features such as lines and columns per page, hair and flesh side, quire type, rubrication, marginalia, illumination, ligatures and paleographic features, etc. The annotations can be linked from elsewhere on the Internet or contributed to our repository.
  2. Second, we imagine the fastest and most democratic pipeline to sharing discovery will be on the Weblog of Digital Archaeology. Contributions to the weblog will be mildly curated, with an emphasis on quick publication and minimal vetting.
  3. Third, we imagine creating an online journal with high standards for peer review and vetting, The Journal of Digital Archaeology.
  4. Fourth, we imagine a digital venue for monographs, especially scholarly editions (see next).

Vision for Complete Scholarly Editions

We anticipate that the crowd-sourced annotations contributed to the repository will assist but not replace a principal scholarly edition overseen by a single editor. We envision a new generation of scholarly edition utilizing new standards (see MLA Guidelines at mla.org). In particular, we envision major improvements compared to past scholarly editions projects, such as the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series.

About Digital Archaeology

Digital archaeology is the study of ancient things using primarily digital tools. Even as conventional digging-based archaeology increasingly utilizes digital tools such as GPS, satellite imagery, and laser scanners, we use the term for approaches that replace digging in dirt entirely. In that way the “digits” involved are binary code, not ten fingers with dirt under the fingernails. Other than the relative lack of dirt, digital archaeology is one with archaeology in uncovering and interpreting evidence of the past. Formerly, evidence was inaccessible because it was buried; for palimpsests and other illegible artifacts the inaccessibility is due to the limitations of the human eye. Digital technology overcomes these limitations.

Another intrinsic feature of digital information is that it can be duplicated and transmitted losslessly. Whereas the examination of artifacts in conventional archaeology is necessarily entrusted to a small number of archaeologists with first-hand access, digital archaeology is fertile ground for collaboration and crowd-sourcing. The project is committed to maximum open access (Creative Commons licensing) and interoperability (IIIF, W3C Open Annotation, etc.).

About the Jubilees Palimpsest

The Jubilees Palimpsest is named after the oldest of three texts contained in the erased layer of what now stands as a 144-page codex, unbound for conservation. In the fifth century a Latin translation of Jubilees (originally composed in Hebrew in the 150s BCE) was copied with another work associated with Moses, the Testament (or Assumption) of Moses. In the eighth century, presumably at the Bobbio abbey, that codex was unbound, erased, and recombined with another erased manuscript of the Arian Commentary on Luke. The erased parchment was then used to copy Eugippius’s anthology of the works of Augustine. In the seventeenth century that palimpsest was brought to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, where it is preserved today. In 1861 A. M. Ceriani published the editio princeps. Additional scholarship on the manuscript was offered by H. Rönsch (1874). After the nineteenth century there were no successful attempts to recover additional text of Jubilees or the Testament of Moses.

See the full page About the Jubilees Palimpsest (LINK) for bibliography and links. Many of the definitive works on the palimpsest are out of copyright and can be downloaded in their entireties from this site or from Google Books. The full page includes the following sections:

  1. Descriptions of the manuscript – including an English translation of R. Gryson’s study of the Arian Commentary on Luke and an English translation of A. M. Ceriani’s introduction.
  2. Images of the manuscript – presently four pages of conventional digital photography and digital scans of the microfilm. This will soon be supplemented with a IIIF Presentation reconstruction of the manuscript viewable in Mirador, etc. Advanced spectral images will be added when available.
  3. Bibliography on Bobbio Manuscripts, Latin Palimpsests, Eugippius, and the Arian Commentary on Luke.
  4. Links pertaining to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana

About Web Dissemination and Accessibility

The Jubilees Palimpsest Project is committed not only to open access but compliance with standards for interoperability and discovery. This frees the data from the silo of a single website and allows it to be aggregated, viewed, studied, annotated in ways far beyond what can be presently imagined. A separate page on Standards and Tools (LINK) provides links and examples. That page can be outlined as follows:

  1. The International Interoperability Framework (IIIF) provides crucial standards for making the images available and organizing the image data and metadata for efficient viewing.
  2. Mirador is being actively developed for easy and powerful study of IIIF presentations. A number of alternatives are also worth considering.
  3. Open Annotation allows anyone to link annotations to our repository. The annotations can be stored anywhere on the Internet or contributed to our repository.
  4. WebRTI allows any modern web browser (even a smart phone) to provide the interactive visualizations of texture without downloading any plugins, installing software, or opening ports in firewalls. Specular Enhancement is now available for WebRTI.
  5. Aggregators and portals facilitate the discovery of digital resources.

About RTI

Links pertaining to Reflectance Transformation Imaging

Bibliography on Reflectance Transformation Imaging and InscriptiFact

Hunt, Leta, Marilyn Lundberg, and Bruce Zuckerman. “InscriptiFact: A Virtual Archive of Ancient Inscriptions from the Near East.” International Journal on Digital Libraries, Special Issue on the Digital Museum 5 (2005): 151–251.

Hunt, Leta, Marilyn Lundberg, and Bruce Zuckerman. “Concrete Abstractions: Ancient Texts and Artefacts and the Future of Their Documentation and Distribution in the Digital Age.” In Textual Comparison and Digital Creativity, the Production of Presence and Meaning in Digital Text Scholarship. Edited by Wido van Peursen, Ernst Thoutenhoofd and Adraan van der Weel. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

Hunt, Leta, Marilyn Lundberg, and Bruce Zuckerman. “Getting Beyond the Common Denominator.” Literary and Linguistic Computing, 2011. Available online.

Zuckerman, Bruce. “The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Inscriptions.” In Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods, edited by Maxine L. Grossman, 69–88. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. Available online.

About Spectral Imaging

Links pertaining to spectral imaging

Bibliography on Spectral Imaging

Lehoux, Daryn. “Ancient Science in a Digital Age.” Isis 104 (2013): 111–18.

Christens-Barry, William A., Ken Boydston, and Roger L. Easton, Jr., “Some Properties of Textual Heritage Materials of Importance in Spectral Imaging Projects,” conference proceedings from Eikonopoiia, Digital Imaging of Ancient Textual Heritage, Technical Challenges and Solutions, 2010.

Easton, Roger L., Jr., “The Multispectral Imaging of the Archimedes Palimpsest,” Gazette du Livre Médiévale 45 (2004): 39–49.

Easton, Roger, Fourier Methods in Imaging (textbook). Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 2010.

Easton, Roger L. Jr., Keith T. Knox, and William A. Christens-Barry, “Ten Years of Lessons from Imaging of the Archimedes Palimpsest,” conference proceedings from Eikonopoiia, Digital Imaging of Ancient Textual Heritage, Technical Challenges and Solutions, pp. 3–25, 2010.

Knox, Keith T., Roger L. Easton, Jr., and Robert H. Johnston. “Digital Miracles: Revealing Invisible Scripts.” In The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1–16. Waco: Baylor, 2006.

Knox, Keith T., “Enhancement of Overwritten Text in the Archimedes Palimpsest,” in Computer Image Analysis in the Study of Art, edited by D. G. Stork and J. Coddington. San Jose, California: Proc. SPIE, 2007.

Phelps, Michael B., and Michael B. Toth, “Strategic Considerations for Palimpsest Imaging Projects: Lessons Learned from the St. Catherine’s Monastery Palimpsest Survey,” conference proceedings from Eikonopoiia, Digital Imaging of Ancient Textual Heritage, Technical Challenges and Solutions, 2010.

Toth, Michael B., Roger Easton, Jr., Bill Christens-Barry, “Eureka! Dublin Core Based Metadata Supports the Archimedes Palimpsest Manuscript Imaging Program,” Proceedings of the International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications, Colima, Mexico. October 3–6, 2006, pp. 120–129.

About the People Involved in the Jubilees Palimpsest Project

The following are involved in the 2016–2019 phase, “Spectral RTI Technology for the Recovery of Erased Manuscripts from Antiquity.” See the complete page of people involved in the Jubilees Palimpsest Project for the 2013–2014 phase “Integrating Spectral RTI” and plans for ongoing digital archaeology at the Ambrosiana (LINK).

Todd Hanneken, St. Mary’s University (San Antonio), Project Director, specialist in ancient Jewish literature (stmarytx.edu)

Anthony Selvanathan, St. Mary’s University, Graduate Student Researcher

James C. VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, specialist in ancient Jewish literature (nd.edu)

Annette Yoshiko Reed, University of Pennsylvania, specialist in ancient Jewish and Christian literature (upenn.edu)

Michael Phelps, Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, specialist in spectral imaging and artifact handling (emel-library.org)

Ken Boydston, MegaVision Corporation, President, specialist in digital imaging (megavision.com)

Roger Easton, Jr., Rochester Institute of Technology, specialist in spectral imaging and processing (rit.edu)

Keith Knox, Retired from U.S. Air Force Research Labs, specialist in imaging science (af.mil)

Giulia Rossetto, University of Vienna, specialist in ancient literature and digital humanities (academia.edu)

Matthias Henze, Rice University, specialist in ancient Jewish literature (rice.edu)

Liv Ingeborg Lied, Norwegian School of Theology, specialist in ancient Jewish literature and manuscript cultures (mn.no,blogspot.com)

Funding Partners

NEH Logo

The National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence

StMU Logo

St. Mary’s University, especially the Edward and Linda Speed Fund



Image of artifacts from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana can be used and reused under the CC BY-NC-SA license. That means the images can be used as long the sources are attributed, derivaties are shared with the same degree of openness, and no commercial profit is derived from the images. Commerical use of images of artifacts owned by the Biblioteca Ambrosiana must be licensed from the Ambrosiana (not the Jubilees Palimpsest Project). The contact for licensing permission from the Biblioteca Ambrosiana is direzione.biblioteca@ambrosiana.it


Everything created solely by the Jubilees Palimpsest Project is licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA license. This includes metadata, documentation, and software created by the project. Images of artifacts from U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. are also available under this license.

Attribution should include at minimum the Jubilees Palimpsest Project and the owner of the artifact (e.g., Biblioteca Ambrosiana, U.S.C., U.C.L.A.). If a named author is required use Todd Hanneken or contact the project director for specifics on persons who contrbuted to creating a particular image.

Some items linked from this site are governed by separate licenses. Examples include the digital versions of public domain books created by Google Books.