What Do We Really Know About the History of the Printing Press?

To get the whole story, you’ll need a particle accelerator.

During the (northern) summer of 2021, UNESCO’s International Center for Documentary Heritage (ICDH) built a team of nearly 50 people, spanning across time zones and academic fields from physics to bookbinding preservation to study historic texts to expand our knowledge of the culture and history of printing technology in the Eastern and Western worlds.

At Stanford University in California, where physicists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory eagerly awaited samples, researchers are in the process of analyzing these texts. They want to know what happened in the history of printing between the production of the Jikji, a Korean Buddhist document published in Heungdeok Temple in 1377, the earliest printed book on record, and the Gutenberg Bible, printed in Mainz, Germany in 1455. AtlasObscura.com

A page from a mid-15th century Gutenberg Bible. Gutenberg’s famous 42-line bible is known as the earliest book printed using mass-produced moveable metal type in Europe. Courtesy of Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

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