The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines a book as: a set of printed sheets of paper that are held together inside a cover; a long written work. This definition rules out clay tablets, scrolls and similar, though many scholars have expanded the definition to include any significant piece of writing bound together inside a cover.
We’ve pulled together an interesting range of the five oldest surviving books in the world.
5. The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells is thought to have been created by Celtic monks around 800 AD. The book is an incredibly ornate illuminated manuscript Gospel book, written in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. It is kept in the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland. Estimated age: 1,215 years old.
4. St Cuthbert Gospel
St Cuthbert Gospel is Europe’s oldest known surviving intact book. The book was buried with St Cuthbert, an early British Christian leader, on the island of Lindisfarne off Northumberland. Only just surviving the Vikings conquests, the book was moved to Durham to avoid Viking raiders, narrowly escaping destruction. The book was rediscovered in 1104 AD. Estimated age: 1,320 years old.
3. Nag Hammadi codices
The Nag Hammadi codices are 13 leather bound papyrus codices that were discovered in 1945 buried inside a sealed jar, by a local man in the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. Considered to be some of the oldest surviving bound books, they contain Gnostic texts, that dated from around the first half of the 4th century AD. Written in the Coptic language, the codices are thought to have been copied from Greek. The Nag Hammadi codices are currently at the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt. Estimated age: 1,670 years old.
2. Pyrgi Gold Tablets
The Pyrgi Gold Tablets date back to 500 BC. Containing holes around the edges, scholars think they were once bound together. Found in 1964 in the excavation of a sanctuary in ancient Pyrgi, Italy, two are written in Etruscan text, with one written in Phoenician – comprising of a dedication from King Thefarie Velianas to the Phoenician goddess Astarte. The plates are now displayed at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome, Italy. Estimated age: 2,515 years old.
1. The Etruscan Gold Book
The Etruscan Gold Book is made from 6 sheets of 24 carat gold, bound together with rings and was discovered whilst digging a canal off the Strouma river in Bulgaria. The plates are written in Etruscan characters, and also depicted is a horse, horseman, a Siren, a lyre, and soldiers. The book was donated to Bulgaria’s National History Museum in Sofia, by an anonymous 87 year old donor. Estimated age: 2,676 years old.