scientists help uncover ancient manuscript
A medieval copy of an
ancient text by Archimedes will see the light of day thanks to
new millennial technology. Scientists at RIT are recovering the
text from five sample pages of the Archimedes Palimpsest, the
10th century Byzantine manuscript that sold for $2 million in
1998 at Christie's auction house in New York City.
The manuscript is
the earliest transcription of the Greek mathematician's writings
and the only known source of his "Method of Mechanical Theorems,"
which combined mathematics and physics. The anonymous owner
of the manuscript has entrusted the document to the care of
the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore for conservation and study.
The museum will select the imaging methods best suited for recovering
the text in the entire manuscript. In addition to RIT, a group
at Johns Hopkins University also is exploring imaging techniques
Archimedes, who lived
from about 287 to 212 B.C., was a mathematician, engineer and
physicist whose work predated Newton's calculus and detailed
the physics of flotation and the lever. The 10th century transcription
of his text was effaced two centuries later by a monk who scraped
and washed away the theorems for a clean surface on which to
copy a Greek prayer book. At RIT, Robert Johnston, archeologist
and professor emeritus, and Roger L. Easton Jr., professor,
both of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, are
using a variety of ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelengths
to separate the faint script and 55 geometrical drawings from
the liturgical text. The scientists digitally manipulate the
images with special software at the Xerox Digital Imaging Technology
Center. "It's another opportunity to apply imaging science technology
to reveal ancient documents that would be lost without it,"
Johnston says. "The technology we're using wouldn't have been
possible five or 10 years ago. The project is another good example
of a cooperative effort between academia and industry." In addition
to Johnston and Easton, the team also includes RIT graduate
students Charles Dickinson and Lichao Wei, and Keith Knox, principal
scientist, at Xerox Corp.