History Files


Eastern Mediterranean

Hunt for Archimedes' Lost Words

by Jane Hughes, 12 July 2000

Scientists in upstate New York are working to restore a tenth century manuscript which is the only known copy of the writings of the Greek mathematician Archimedes.

The text was wiped out by a monk 200 years after it was written and covered by other writing, but the scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology are using some of the latest technology to uncover the original words.

170 pages of brilliance

The 170-page manuscript has been described by one expert as Archimedes' "brain in a book".

It details several of his ground-breaking ideas, including his theory of the flotation of bodies and theorems which contain the roots of modern calculus and gravitational principles.

The RIT scientists are now using digital cameras and ultra-violet and infra-red filters to see through the overwritten material to what remains of the original words and drawings.

The text was sold at auction for $2m in 1998.

Scientists are hoping their work will persuade the museum where it is now kept that they should be given the entire manuscript to restore.



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