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Good News: Humans have been doodling for at least 12 centuries

BY Alice Gawthrop

2nd Feb 2023 Good News

Good News: Humans have been doodling for at least 12 centuries

Researchers have discovered doodles resembling cartoon people in a religious book from the 8th century

Cast your mind back to your secondary school days and no doubt you have a countless memories of doodling in your maths book when you were meant to be solving for x. Well, you weren’t the only one—researchers have recently discovered some doodles resembling cartoon people in a Latin copy of the Acts of the Apostles that was made in England between AD700 and AD750. 

Finding the historical doodles

John Barrett and the ARCHiOx project team undertook imaging work at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. They used technology to capture the manuscript’s 3D surface, and in doing so discovered these doodles, as well as secret scratchings of the Old English female name Eadburg. 

"Researchers used technology to capture the manuscript’s 3D surface, and in doing so discovered these doodles"

According to The Guardian, the PhD student at the University of Leicester who made the discovery Jessica Hodgkinson said, “There are only a limited number of surviving early medieval manuscripts which contain clear internal evidence of a woman having created, owned or used them.”

It’s unclear who wrote the name or why, although it’s likely that it was Eadburg herself. Hodgkinson hopes to discover who Eadburg was, and what the doodled figures might mean.

An old tradition

This is not the only historical example of doodling! Dutch historian Erik Kwakkel has found many doodles in some of the world’s oldest books and manuscripts at Leiden University, The Netherlands, including a 13th-century law manuscripts and 19th-century whaling logbooks. The scribbles include funny faces, animals and caricatures of teachers (some things never change). 

So next time you find yourself doodling absentmindedly in a Zoom call, just know that you are part of an ancient tradition!

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