Monday, May 23, 2005

TECHNOLOGY-AND-ANTIQUITY WATCH: While we're on the subject of cool ancient manuscripts and creative technologies for reading them, there's this Yahoo News article about an important Archimedes manuscript:
Using state-of-the-art circular particle accelerators called synchrotrons, the scientists shone ultra-fine light beams onto three pages of the aged texts. Tuned to a specific energy, the light caused traces of iron in the ink to fluoresce, revealing for the first time the wispy outlines of Archimedes' 2,000-year-old ideas etched onto a goatskin document known as the ``Palimpsest.''

Though much of its text has been deciphered over the years by visible or ultraviolet light, about a quarter of the 174-page document remains unread, said SLAC scientist Uwe Bergmann. Efforts have been hampered by a form of medieval recycling in which parchment pages were erased and written over, allowing the rare material to be reused -- in this case replacing mathematical theorems with prayers.

Odd circumstances brought this ancient book into the realm of modern science and engineering.

While attending a 2003 conference in Germany, Bergmann came across a magazine article that mentioned the Palimpsest and other religious texts whose ink contained iron. ``I immediately thought it would be possible to use our X-rays to image the document,'' said Bergmann, whose own research uses synchrotron X-rays to detect extremely small amounts of iron within proteins.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes.

(Via Cronaca [which has background links] and Archaeologica News.)

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