Saturday, June 18, 2005


Archimedes is speaking again with the help of X-rays:
Archimedes' amazingly advanced ideas have been lost and found several times throughout the ages. Now scientists are employing modern technology—including X-ray fluorescence at SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL)—to completely read the Archimedes Palimpsest, the only source for at least two previously unknown treatises thought out by Archimedes in the third century B.C....

The palimpsest is a 1,000-year-old parchment made of goatskin containing Archimedes' work as laboriously copied down by a 10th century scribe. Two centuries later, with parchment harder to come by, the ink was erased with a weak acid (like lemon juice) and scraped off with a pumice stone, and the parchment was written on again to make a prayer book.

One of the most intractable problems was seeing the original ink on four pages that had been painted over with Byzantine religious images, which turned out to be 20th century forgeries intended to increase the value of the prayer book.

An X-ray system recently showed it was possible to penetrate the paintings. At SSRL, the assembled team practically jumped with excitement as the original writing beneath one painting was unveiled on the computer screens. Archimedes' hidden text deals with floating bodies and the equilibrium of planes.

The successful use of this and similar technologies will help recover innumerable ancient texts, Biblical manuscripts included.

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