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How Science Survived: Medieval Manuscripts' "Demography" and Classic Texts' Extinction

Science  25 Feb 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5713, pp. 1305-1307
DOI: 10.1126/science.1104718

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Abstract

Determining what fraction of texts and manuscripts have survived from Antiquity and the Middle Ages has been highly problematic. Analyzing the transmission of texts as the “paleodemography” of their manuscripts yields definite and surprisingly high estimates. Parchment copies of the foremost medieval textbooks on arithmetical and calendrical calculation closely fit age distributions expected for populations with logistic growth and manuscripts with exponential survivorship. The estimated half-lives of copies agree with Bischoff's paleographically based suggestion that roughly one in seven manuscripts survive in some form from ninth-century Carolingian workshops. On this basis, many if not most of the leading technical titles circulating in Latin probably survived, even from late Antiquity.

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