‘Utterly bonkers’: Hidden meanings in ancient scroll that inspired ‘Game of Thrones’

Maude Roll. Photographed in the studio, in sections and showing details of the scroll. 25.6.10

A team of British scientists are set to make the trip to New Zealand this month, all in the hopes of unlocking the secrets hidden in a 600-year-old scroll.

The 15th-century English manuscript, known as the Canterbury Roll, is the only genealogocial scroll in the whole southern hemisphere, making it an extremely unique and prized artefact.

Despite being in the care of the University of Canterbury (UC) for over a century, experts believe they are still yet to uncover all of the scroll’s hidden meanings.

UC Senior Lecturer Dr Chris Jones says it is crazy that no one really knows about its existence.

“The Canterbury Roll is the most significant and substantial medieval artefact in New Zealand. For 100 years, UC has been the guardian of this unique 600-year-old treasure, which tells the history of England from its mythical origins to the late Middle Ages,” he said.

“No-one has anything like this in New Zealand or Australia. And it’s utterly bonkers that no-one really knows we have it, because it’s magnificent!”

The ancient document dates back to the Wars of the Roses, a series of English civil wars fought for control of the throne of England, which were the inspiration for George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones.”

Maude Roll. Photographed in the studio, in sections and showing details of the scroll. 25.6.10

 (University of Canterbury)

The battles spanned over three centuries, sparked by a conflict between two noble British families, the Lancasters and Yorks, with a number of major players in the historic war adapted into characters for the popular fantasy series.

“The Wars of the Roses are what Games of Thrones is based on, and this is the Wars of the Roses laid out across a 5-metre, visually spectacular document,” Dr Jones said.



“It features contributions from both the key players in the Wars of the Roses — it was originally drawn up by the Lancastrian side in the conflict but it fell into Yorkist hands and they rewrote part of it.”

The final secrets harboured in the ancient text could soon be revealed, as the British scientific research team prepares to visit the university in Christchurch next week to carry out in-depth testing of the Roll. They say they’re looking for “hidden” writing and any other features.

“The UK scientific team will be carrying out a series of tests on the Roll with specialised equipment,” Dr Jones said.

“The science itself is new: it’s groundbreaking work that has never before been applied to this type of manuscript.”

In order to make the scrolls secrets more accessible, UC staff and students are working to translate and digitise the medieval manuscript, with the efforts known as the “Canterbury Roll Project”.

The full digitised Roll will be available to the public in 2018, with stage one of the digital version already accessible on the university’s website.

Dr Jones says the digital version of the Roll will be ground breaking and is set to be more advanced than any other document of its kind.

“People have released ‘digital’ rolls in the UK and the US but they tend to be static photos. This is a fully scrolling, online and zoomable text,” he said.

“It’s considerably more sophisticated than anything that exists in the world today.”

Many important aspects of the project, such as the Latin transcription and English translation, have been spearheaded by students at the University of Canterbury.

“The Latin transcription is the work of current and former UC students; the translation is the work of a current UC Master of Arts student,” Dr Jones said.

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