Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication
Université Versailles Saint-Quentin


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Archimedes treaties revealed : Uwe Bergmann’s conference at the French National Library on 2 March 2017

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Archimedes (287 – 212 BC) is considered one of the most brilliant thinkers of all times. The privately owned 10th century parchment document known as the Archimedes Palimpsest is the unique source for three treaties from the Greek genius – the Stomachion, and The Method of Mechanical Theorems (in any language) and On Floating Bodies in Greek.

After resurfacing in Paris in the 1990’s the Archimedes Palimpsest was auctioned at Christie’s and purchased by a private collector. For more than ten years the Archimedes Palimpsest has the subject of an integrated effort of conservation, imaging, and scholarship being undertaken at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. While much of the overwritten text could be revealed with multispectral imaging, some pages were illegible even with these advanced methods, either due to mold and other damage, or due to obstructions from forgery miniatures that had been added much later.

Using a powerful X-ray beam at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), an X-ray imaging technique was developed that was able to uncovered missing Archimedes writings previously not seen with other techniques. By measuring the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) emitted by the iron in the ink, the scientists were able to provide digital maps that revealed the traces of the overwritten ink. Stimulated by this work, the XRF imaging technique has since been further developed and applied. It has also inspired new studies not just on other manuscripts, but also paintings and fossils and tissue.

During a conference at the French National Library, Uwe Bergmann will present the fascinating journey of a 1000 year old parchment from its origin in the Mediterranean city of Constantinople to a powerful synchrotron in California, and how this journey has inspired other work and new ongoing scientific developments.

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