Unusual Medieval Knife Used Like An Eraser Discovered In Poland

AncientPages.com - It took months to write a book during the Middle Ages. Most medieval manuscripts, illuminated or not, were written on parchment. Paper wasn't available in Europe until 1450. One of the most time demanding tasks was to erase an error. If you made a mistake, you had to scrape the ink off the page with a sharp knife. It was a painstaking task because the parchments could be easily ruined.

Unusual Medieval Knife Used Like An Eraser Discovered In PolandLarge image: The author of a manuscript at his writing desk. 14th Century. Credit: National Library of Wales. Small image: medieval knife discovered in Poland. Credit: S. Wadyl

Archaeologists have discovered an unusual Medieval knife that scribes used like an eraser.
The knife was found in in the Pasym castle, in the district of Szczycien, Poland.

Pasym Castle. Credit: Mazury TravelPasym Castle. Credit: Mazury Travel

According to archaeologists from the University of Warsaw, it's a truly unique object and nothing similar has ever been found in Poland.
“The search for similar artifacts led us to the British Isles, where rotary knives are quite typical for this period. The objects discovered there, as well as in Frisia and Norway, are similar to our find,” Dr. Slawomir Wadyl from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw said.

The knife is less than 10 cm in length. What distinguishes the knife from other objects of this type, is the presence of two blades - a longer blade (measuring 42 mm) and a shorter one (measuring 27 mm), which could be used interchangeably. Both blades were formed by cutting off the back. Based on other objects found in its vicinity, archaeologists estimate that the knife comes from the VIII-IX century.

knives of this type were used by scribes in their work. Two different precision blades could be used to create manuscripts - such tools are among the instruments frequently depicted in the images of scribes found on miniatures from the era.

Unusual Medieval Knife Used Like An Eraser Discovered In PolandThis Medieval knife was used like an eraser. Credit: S. Wadyl

"On this basis, we know that knives with a variety of blades accompanied all stages of manuscript creation: they were used to cut parchment, mark lines, control the shape of letters and erase mistakes" - says Dr. Wadyl.

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"It appears that they were originally used by scribes, but with time they were probably adapted by other crafts that required precision, where the possibilities offered by knives with two different blades were extremely desirable. So they could be used for processing leather, wood or bones" - says the archaeologist. Evidence of antler processing was found within the building where the knife was discovered.

A medieval depiction of scribe holding a quill pen and a knife, from Canterbury, England. Credit: WikipediaA medieval depiction of scribe holding a quill pen and a knife, from Canterbury, England. Credit: Wikipedia

According to Wadyl, it is difficult to say whether the knife had been brought from Scandinavia or the British Isles, but the concept of its creation clearly indicates this origin.
Less similar specimens of rotary knives have been discovered by archaeologists in Belarus and Estonia, but they are several hundred years younger than the one from Pasym.


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