Universe Stories: The Paper Is Over – Science – Life

If we are talking about reading, then I totally agree with the statement that there is nothing that can compare to having a good paper book in your hands to read, touch and even smell. From the clay tablets or papyrus to the huge publishing markets and book fairs we enjoy today, Books and reading were fundamental pillars of human culture and the advancement of knowledge.

It is estimated that the number of different surnames in the world is about 200 million, a number that is growing by just over 2 million each year. In China alone, about 500,000 new titles are published annually.

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Print books have not escaped many problems, among them the reading crisis caused by the education crisis, the emergence of the Internet and new technologies that set the debate about whether traditional books will withstand the digital onslaught, and the paper crisis.

Specifically, the latter is part of the current crisis that we are facing in the supply chain in various sectors, which has been exacerbated in part by the pandemic. I know books that didn’t make it to the recently concluded Bogotá International Book Fair due to the scarcity of the raw materials it gives life.

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These crises are nothing new. In the seventeenth century there was already, for example, an abundance of books and a dearth of readers. And as far as raw materials are concerned, on countless occasions paper from ancient writings has had to be reused, so much so that there is a name for this type of “recycled” book, the word for “parque”.

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The parchment refers to parchment that has been scratched to erase the old, previously written text, and to be able to reuse it for new texts. This was a common practice in the Middle Ages, and was used mainly in monasteries where pagan Greek texts were generally erased and reused for new publications, reducing raw material costs.

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Many ancient writings will disappear forever, but in other cases it was possible to salvage the hidden texts in Tarrash, using modern X-ray, infrared and ultraviolet imaging techniques, and scrutinizing the traces and inscriptions left by the original writings. There are celebrities like which Saint Augustine used when he wrote about a manuscript by Cicero that had previously been erased.

One of the most valuable is Archimedes Palimpsest, written in the 10th century by an unknown scribe who compiled part of the works of Archimedes from Syracuse, a great ancient mathematician. Two centuries after it was written, the manuscript was scraped and washed to write a 177-page liturgical text. Barely three decades ago, the original text was fully revealed, and today anyone can explore it. Another victory for modern science.

Santiago Vargas
PhD in Astrophysics
Astronomical Observatory of the National University

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