Fragments of medieval manuscripts found in the UK containing stories about the wizard Merlin have been identified by experts from the universities of Bristol and Durham as one of the earliest references to this character in the legends about King Arthur. This is reported in a press release from the University of Bristol.

British scientists also managed to find out how the handwritten fragments they studied ended up in Bristol, compare the text with already known versions of the same legend, and, finally, using the latest multispectral imaging technologies, they were able to determine the type of ink used and read damaged sections of the text that are invisible to the naked eye.

Seven fragments of parchment were accidentally discovered in early 2019 by Michael Richardson from the University of Bristol. They were pasted into the bindings of four book volumes published in 1494-1502 and stored in the collection of rare books of the Central Library of Bristol. The fragments, dating from the beginning of the XIII century, contain excerpts from anonymous Old French handwritten lists known as the Vulgate cycle, or the Lancelot-Grail cycle.

“We were able to date the manuscript from which the fragments were taken using paleographic (handwriting) analysis. It was created in 1250-1275. And with the help of linguistic research, we were able to determine the place of its origin — this is the north or, possibly, the north-east of France, ” said Professor Leah Teter, president of the British branch of the International King Arthur Society. Interestingly, the Bristol fragments contain small but important differences from the previously known lists.

Parts of this cycle may have been used by Sir Thomas Malory (1415-1471) as a source for his Le Morte Darthur (first printed in 1485 by William Caxton), and this cycle in turn serves as the main source for most modern retellings of the legend of King Arthur.