Museum hails ancient Psalter found in bog
By Jodie Ginsberg
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's national museum on Tuesday hailed what it said was one of the most significant discoveries in decades -- and perhaps centuries -- after an ancient prayer book was found by chance in an Irish bog.
The National Museum of Ireland said fragments of what appeared to be an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms, written around AD 800, were uncovered by a bulldozer in a bog in the south Midlands.
"In discovery terms this Irish equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls is being hailed by the Museum's experts as the greatest find ever from a European bog," the museum said in a statement.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in the mid 20th century, are considered to be of enormous religious and historical significance since they include some of the earliest known surviving Biblical documents.
The Irish discovery, recovered from bogland last Thursday, comprises extensive fragments of what is thought to be an Irish Early Christian Psalter, written on vellum, a fine animal skin parchment.
"In my wildest hopes, I could only have dreamed of a discovery as fragile and rare as this," Museum Director Pat Wallace said, adding it was not so much the fragments themselves, but what they represented, that was of such "staggering" importance.
"It testifies to the incredible richness of the Early Christian civilisation of this island and to the greatness of ancient Ireland," he said.
The museum said it did not know how the manuscript ended up in the bog.
"It may have been lost in transit or dumped after a raid, possibly more than a thousand to twelve hundred years ago."
Part of Psalm 83, a lament to God over other nations' attempts to wipe out Israel, is legible but the museum said the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved would only be determined by lengthy work by a team of experts.
Bernard Meehan, Head of Manuscripts at Trinity College Dublin, who was invited to advise on the context and background of the manuscript, said he believed it was the first discovery of an Irish Early Mediaeval manuscript in two centuries.
Initial impressions placed the composition date of the manuscript at about AD 800, a time of Viking raids in Ireland.