The Archimedes Palimpsest

The mysteries of the past can sometimes only be revealed using new and innovative technology. This is the story of the Archimedes Palimpsest. The great Greek mathematician Archimedes left behind 3 books or codexs that we are aware of known as codex A, B, and C. Codex C is known as the Archimedes Palimpsest because the book was taken apart, washed of all its knowledge, and the paper was reused as a prayer book. Codex C was published in 1915 by Johan Heiberg using only a microscope. However this publication was incomplete. For years the book rotted away until one day it ended up in the hands of curator William Noel at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland in January 1999.

The palimpsest restoration project lasted well over eight years and was an immensely arduous task. Walters used multispectral imaging to enhance the writings on the paper, as well as radiation imaging. Given the codex shape, pages missing, and sections being unclear, many treasures couldn’t be seen before in the text. It is hard to know exactly how old the texts may be. A team of imaging scientists at the Walters Art Gallery carefully used highly focused x-ray florescent lights and infrared to carefully view the manuscripts as clearly as possible.

SLAC issued a request to Lenox Laser to produce microscopic laser-drilled holes in thin tungsten film when confronted with an engineering challenge involving their Synchrotron X-Ray source. These small apertures proved critical to the team’s success in uncovering the Palimpsest’s “hidden treasure” as they helped make previously unreadable sections of the document clear. This is just one of Lenox laser’s many pioneering moments in its history.

The Archimedes project would uncover a possible forgery in Archimedes’s Equilibrium of Planes, even one small section that portion would take over 10 hours for technicians to generate. Another amazing result was the team was able to find a whole column of text on the palimpsest. Thanks to the help of everyone involved in this project so many different fields, Codex C is now available to anyone through the Walters Art Museum.

Archimedes Palimpsest Official Site

The Walters Art Museum

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