Sunday, September 11, 2005

Archimedes' Palimpsest

In 1998, a battered manuscript resurfaced after long obscurity and was auctioned off by Christie's for $2 million. It looked liked a Christian prayer book and had been used as such for several centuries, but it was a palimpsest--a manuscript written over an earlier scraped text. It was put together in that form at a time when parchment paper was valued more highly than the ideas it had contained--the ideas of the greatest mathematician of the ancient world, Archimedes.

Archimedes' Palimpsest now resides at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and its contents are being retrieved using digital image processing. You can navigate the museum site using the icons at the top of the page.

"Our understanding of Archimedes is based on several manuscripts (now in cities such as Paris, Rome, Venice and Florence). All of them, however, except the Archimedes Palimpsest, are very late copies which provide us only with a very indirect picture of Archimedes' mind. The best view we have, the closest we can get to Archimedes, is through the Palimpsest."

-- Shrikant Rangnekar

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