Paleography is the study of ancient handwriting. Paleography is more concerned with how a document was written, not necessarily the text of a document, and frequently deciphers, reads, and determines the dating of historical documents. Paleography can be an essential skill for historians.
The style in which an alphabet was written changes over the course of time, even an alphabet such as the English language. Paleography seeks to understand how individual letters were written at different times. Also, scribes were often employed throughout history, and these individuals created their own systems of abbreviations, in order to write quickly. Paleography can be employed in deciphering these abbreviations.
Jean Mabillion, a French monk, invented the discipline of paleography in 1681, although the term was coined in 1708 by another monk, Bernard de Montfaucon. These monks were attempting to authenticate documents related to the founding of their monasteries. During the 19th century, scholars expanded paleography as a discipline.
Many paleographers are employed in the detection of forgeries. Understanding the language, grammar, and style of writing employed in a specific time and place can help scholars to see if the work is genuine, or the result of modern attempts at reproduction. Additionally, paleography understands the types of writing materials used in historical time periods.