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L'Italo-Americano THURSDAY, JUNE 12, 2014 www.italoamericano.com 2 The Huntington Library reveals Archimedes' last secrets Continued from page 1 collection and from UCLA used to help read the precious docu- ment, and videos that illustrate the complicated conservation and imaging process. The fascinating story of the manuscript dates back to tenth century Constantinople (Istanbul), where an anonymous scribe copied Archimedes' math- ematical treatises in original Greek onto parchment. Three hundred years later, a Greek monk "recycled" the priceless document to make use of the paper, at that time hard to come by, and erased Archimedes' text to create an Orthodox prayer book. It was only in the late 1800s that scholar Johan Ludvig Heiberg discovered Archimedes' writing underneath the prayers, transcribed as much of the text as possible, and wisely took some photographs that helped future investigation and interpretation. Afterwards, the palimpsest disap- peared for decades, a few leaves were lost, and medieval illustra- tions were painted on some of the pages. In 1998, the mysterious book was purchased by a private col- lector from Christie's auction house in New York, and loaned to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for conservation, digi- tal imaging, and transcription. For 12 years, 80 scientists, schol- ars, and conservators worked on the text "which was extremely fragile and damaged by time, weather, travel, and manipula- tion, and needed to be disassem- bled and stabilized before any imaging could be performed," explained Project Director Will Noel in a 2011 news release. High-tech equipment was employed to reveal Archimedes' writing hidden beneath the reli- gious text and paintings. It con- sists of a previously unknown treatise entitled "The Method of Mechanical Theorems", focusing on the use of infinitesimals to determine area or volume; the only surviving copy in Greek of his work "On Floating Bodies" and other texts; and his mathe- matical puzzle known as "Stomachion", which may be the earliest example of combina- torics at the base of modern com- puting. According to Noel, if the man- uscripts had not been palimpsest- ed into the prayer book, they might have never survived until today, which makes this one of the most important discoveries of our time in the field of science. Instead of eclipsing Archimedes' genius, the intervention of the Orthodox monk actually helped to preserve it. These findings reaffirm the his- torical importance of the classi- cal mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer, who discovered the principle of Specific Gravity (different things have different densities relative to water), and the Law of the Lever (magni- tudes are in equilibrium at dis- tances reciprocally proportional to their weights). His scientific "tricks" were also employed to defend the city of Syracuse dur- ing the Roman siege in 212 B.C., when he was killed, and he is considered to be the predecessor of other great scientists such as Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. Forgery of a medieval illustration of St. John in the Archimedes Palimpsest. Copyright the owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest, licensed for use under creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Access Rights

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