Coming to the Walters Art Museum This Weekend: The Archimedes Palimpsest
This weekend, The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore will open a new exhibit that brings to light remarkable discoveries from a hidden manuscript. Titled “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes,” the exhibit shows how an international team of scientists and scholars uncovered material that was assumed to be lost for centuries – including treatises from the greatest thinker of the ancient world.
The Archimedes Palimpsest is the name given to a Byzantine prayer-book from the 13th century, which was assembled using the pages from several earlier manuscripts. One of these manuscripts contained several treatises by Archimedes copied in the 10th century – and in two cases they represent the only known copy surviving today. To create the prayer-book, the pages of seven manuscripts were erased, cut from their bindings, rotated 90 degrees, and recycled to form a new book.
In October 1998, the Palimpsest was purchased at Christie’s by an anonymous collector for two million dollars. It was loaned to the Walters Museum in Baltimore, where it has since been the subject of a privately funded project to conserve, image and transcribe its texts. With multispectral imaging (which uses different wavelengths of infrared, visible and ultraviolet light) and processing techniques, the erased texts were fully exposed for the first time in nearly a thousand years.
In this slideshow, see how the Walters’ team of experts uncovered the secrets of the Archimedes Palimpsest. And for a complete set of color images of the text, as well as a discussion of the techniques used, check out The Archimedes Palimpsest, coming from Cambridge University Press on November 30.