I have an article today in The Atlantic Online entitled Mutated Manuscripts: The Evolution of Genes and Texts. It’s about the surprising (and hopefully interesting) ways that studying ancient manuscripts is similar to studying genetics, mainly coming down to the analysis of mutation:
Insertions can occur during copying in both genetics and paleography as well. This is called dittography for manuscripts, and, well, insertions, in genetics. There are also reversals: metathesis in paleography and chromosomal transpositions in genetics. And point mutations, substituting the wrong genetic base when copying DNA, also occur in handwritten manuscripts. In both cases, the wrong letter is written, based on probabilities of being similar. In DNA, A and T are quite similar chemically and can be confused easily. In ancient Greek, lambda and delta look similar and are more likely to be exchanged as well. And the list goes on.