Fragments of 1200-year-old parchment manuscripts have been found sewn into some of Auckland Library's oldest books.

Researchers believe they are the earliest remains of western manuscripts held in the Southern Hemisphere.

Library staff found some of the strips in the centre binding of a donated bible printed in Germany in the late 15th century.

They sought advice from Emeritus Professor Alexandra Barratt, of Waikato University, who is an expert in medieval manuscripts.


She found more of the same fragments in the four-volume set making up the bible.

Her English expert colleague confirmed the fragments' importance.

"They date from the early 9th century, maybe not longer after AD 800, making them more than 1200 years old," Professor Barratt said yesterday.

She said the vellum strips of manuscript came from a Latin Carolingian bible - written during the rule of Emperor Charlemagne (742-814) in western and central Europe.

The 15th century bible with the fragments had belonged to the monastery of Benediktbeuern in southern Germany. In those days, people bought printed pages and had them bound into books.

The ancient monastery would have had its own bindery.

"They were hot on recycling and would have thought this old 9th century bible was not needed anymore because now they had beautiful printed ones.

"They would have chopped the old ones up and sewn in the bits to strengthen the centres."


Further investigation showed they were from two manuscripts, other remains of which are in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

The Auckland remains were discovered during catalogue work on volumes making up a glossed bible which was presented to the library in 1913 by Henry Shaw.

It is held in the Sir George Grey Special Collections.

Some of the Auckland fragments are readable and come from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Ezekiel and Hosea.

"Writing on some of the strips is easy to read, because modern handwritten print was based on that style of Latin Carolingian writing, rather than the Gothic print which came later.

"So you look at it and it's surprisingly modern - but it's 1200 years old."

The treasure might not have been found but for a grant from the ASB Community Trust to enable the catalogue work.

Professor Barratt said there was a collector's market for small strips of old manuscripts but it was not worth anyone pulling a bible to pieces in order to put them up for sale.

The last offering in December was a collection of 15 fragments from a variety of manuscript bindings and it failed to reach the reserve of about $6000.However, one page of a Carolingian manuscript sold for about $20,000.