Hosts Mary Miller of the Exploratorium and Neil Calder of Stanford Linear Accelerator Center will be joined by a variety of guests, each involved in a different aspect of imaging the ancient document.
Dr. Uwe Bergmann of Stanford, and Abigail Quandt, head of book and paper conservation at The Walters Art Museum, will both be on hand to answer questions during the Webcast as the lines of text are slowly revealed. We’ll also be joined by William Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at The Walters Museum and the project director for the Archimedes palimpsest. Noel will help us read and interpret the ancient hidden thoughts of Archimedes and other secrets contained in this unique manuscript.
The team at SSRL, led by Uwe Bergmann, completed two runs of the 174-page Archimedes document last year, refining their techniques and making new discoveries; some of them will be revealed for the first time during the Webcast.
Uwe Bergmann, a scientist at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL), uses the intense x-rays beams to study photosynthesis in plants. He regularly studies spinach leaves, using them to understand how plant cells take up and split water molecules during photosynthesis. As Popeye knew very well, spinach contains iron. Iron provides a link between Bergmann’s work and the ancient Archimedes document, which he first learned about when his mother sent him an article clipped from a German magazine. The ink in the ancient manuscript contains iron pigment.
“I read that and I immediately thought we should be able to read the parchment with X-rays,” Bergmann said. “That’s what we do at SSRL, we image atoms and molecules, including extremely small concentrations of iron.”
Bergmann contacted the curators at The Walters Art Museum, who invited him to present his proposal during an imaging meeting in Baltimore. To test the system, they sent him a sample page from a different manuscript that contained similar properties. Bergmann successfully tested this sample on the same day that an Exploratorium staff member was touring the SSRL facility.
William Noel has been Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore since 1997, and the project director for the Archimedes Palimpsest for the last seven years. He is the author of The Henry Psalter (1995), The Oxford Bible Pictures (2004), and other studies dealing with medieval manuscripts and their illumination. At the behest of his museum director, Dr. Noel contacted the anonymous owner of the Archimedes palimpsest after it was bought at auction for $2 million in 1998. The owner agreed to place the document in the care of The Walters Museum staff to conserve, image, and study the ancient writings of Archimedes and to support the imaging work and scholarly research of the palimpsest.
Abigail Quandt is a Senior Conservator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. She oversees the continuing care of the document as well as the preparation of the manuscript for imaging. This entailed carefully taking apart and cleaning the manuscript. By doing this, she revealed previously unseen text, which had been hidden under the bindings of the palimsest when it was created.
Roger Easton is a professor at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. His research includes using modern imaging technologies to recover writings from historical manuscripts. He and his colleagues have revealed about 80 percent of the faint Archimedes “undertext” using a technique called multispectral imaging, which combines images taken under a variety of conditions and at different wavelengths.