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DNA and Ancient Scrolls

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As DNA is copied, mistakes can be made and then propagated in subsequent rounds of copying. Changes in DNA sequences among different species are widely used to construct evolutionary trees, showing how the species are related – sometimes with surprising conclusions. However, other things undergo the same process of ‘copying with changes’ including manuscripts. We have successfully used computer programs designed for analysing DNA sequences to study the copying history of sets of manuscripts, for example for the Canterbury Tales. Exactly the same approach has been used to study the evolution of things as diverse as languages and Persian carpets.

This talk is part of the Stokes Society, Pembroke College series.

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