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The ‘Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection’ of Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah dates from the 9th–19th century and is an invaluable 1,000-year record of the religious, social, economic and cultural life of the Mediterranean world.
Treasures include the earliest known example of a Jewish engagement deed (dating from 1119), an eyewitness account of Crusader atrocities, and autograph writings by leading Jewish thinkers such as Moses Maimonides.
A genizah is a sacred storeroom, a room set aside inside a synagogue for the interment of old religious writings, which, because they contain names of God or use the sacred Hebrew alphabet, cannot be discarded. For more than 1,000 years, the Jewish community of Fustat (now a suburb of Cairo), deposited all manner of writings – not just sacred texts – into the dusty storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Its contents were described by historian Simon Schama as ‘the single most complete archive of a society anywhere in the whole medieval world’.
The fragments purchased by Oxford and Cambridge were brought back from Cairo by intrepid twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson in 1896 and deposited at Westminster College where they remained until August 1.
The appeal, launched earlier this year at The British Academy, marked the first time the two universities have joined forces to fundraise. A lead gift of £500,000 from the Polonsky Foundation was followed by a donation of £350,000, arranged through a Director of the Littman Library of Jewish Civilisation.
A further generous grant of £100,000 was pledged by the Bonita Charitable Trust – both libraries are grateful to the many other individuals and charitable trusts who made donations to the appeal from around the world.
With the manuscripts secured, the collection, previously owned by the United Reform Church’s Westminster College, will undergo careful conservation at Cambridge University Library during the next two years before being digitised and made freely available online.
The manuscripts will then be divided between the University Library at Cambridge and the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford. A public exhibition looking at the collection – and the extraordinary twin sisters who played such a vital role in their discovery – will be held in 2016 at Cambridge University Library.
Both libraries are already holders of substantial Genizah collections in their own right. Cambridge is home to the largest collection in the world with some 200,000 fragments out of the estimated 350,000 to be found in public collections worldwide. Meanwhile, the Bodleian holds 25,000 world-class Genizah folios, the size and quality of which rank it among the most important global collections.
Cambridge University Librarian Anne Jarvis said: “Over the centuries the Bodleian and Cambridge University Library have been celebrated rivals, particularly when it came to the acquisition of great collections. Now that our two great libraries will share the ownership of the Collection, this can only bring benefits to both institutions and provide an exemplar for other purchases and collaborations in the future.”
Bodley’s Interim Librarian Richard Ovenden said: “The Lewis-Gibson Collection has been a catalyst for bringing our two organisations into closer cooperation than ever before. As we face ever harder challenges brought about by complex factors: financial, technological, organizational, the university libraries at Oxford and Cambridge can testify already to the power of collaboration to enable us to face those challenges.”
Contributing Source : Cambridge University
The resulting firestorm and global dust cloud caused the extinction of many land plants and large animals, including most of the dinosaurs. At this week’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, MBARI researchers will present evidence that remnants from this devastating impact are exposed along the Campeche Escarpment—an immense underwater cliff in the southern Gulf of Mexico.
The ancient meteorite impact created a huge crater, over 160 kilometers across. Unfortunately for geologists, this crater is almost invisible today, buried under hundreds of meters of debris and almost a kilometer of marine sediments. Although fallout from the impact has been found in rocks around the world, surprisingly little research has been done on the rocks close to the impact site, in part because they are so deeply buried. All existing samples of impact deposits close to the crater have come from deep boreholes drilled on the Yucatán Peninsula.
In March 2013, an international team of researchers led by Charlie Paull of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) created the first detailed map of the Campeche Escarpment. The team used multi-beam sonars on the research vessel Falkor, operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute. The resulting maps have recently been incorporated in Google Maps (maps.google.com) and Google Earth (earth.google.com) for viewing by researchers and the general public.
Paull has long suspected that rocks associated with the impact might be exposed along the Campeche Escarpment, a 600-kilometer-long underwater cliff just northwest of the Yucatán Peninsula. Nearly 4,000 meters tall, the Campeche Escarpment is one of the steepest and tallest underwater features on Earth. It is comparable to one wall of the Grand Canyon—except that it lies thousands of meters beneath the sea.
As in the walls of the Grand Canyon, sedimentary rock layers exposed on the face of the Campeche Escarpment provide a sequential record of the events that have occurred over millions of years. Based on the new maps, Paull believes that rocks formed before, during, and after the impact are all exposed along different parts of this underwater cliff.
Just as a geologist can walk the Grand Canyon, mapping layers of rock and collecting rock samples, Paull hopes to one day perform geologic “fieldwork” and collect samples along the Campeche Escarpment. Only a couple of decades ago, the idea of performing large-scale geological surveys thousands of meters below the ocean surface would have seemed a distant fantasy. Over the last eight years, however, such mapping has become almost routine for MBARI geologists using underwater robots.
The newly created maps of the Campeche Escarpment could open a new chapter in research about one of the largest extinction events in Earth’s history. Already researchers from MBARI and other institutions are using these maps to plan additional studies in this little-known area. Detailed analysis of the bathymetric data and eventual fieldwork on the escarpment will reveal fascinating new clues about what happened during the massive impact event that ended the age of the dinosaurs—clues that have been hidden beneath the waves for 65 million years.
In addition to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, Paull’s collaborators in this research included Jaime Urrutia-Fucugauchi from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico and Mario Rebolledo- Vieyra of the Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán. Paull also worked closely with MBARI researchers, including geophysicist and software engineer Dave Caress, an expert on processing of multibeam sonar data, and geologist Roberto Gwiazda, who served as project manager and will be describing this research at the AGU meeting.
Contributing Source : Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
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