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Lost Texts Revealed: Ancient Manuscripts Meet High-Tech Imaging

Evening Program

Inside Science program

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - 6:45 p.m.
Code: 1W0029

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Archimedes Palimpsest Folio 177r

Digital scholars can now conduct research on manuscripts from early civilizations that were painstakingly inscribed more than a millennium ago, and that had remained unseen for centuries. These insights into early historical records are revealed in palimpsests: text and drawings on parchment that had been scraped off and overwritten. This common process actually preserved the earlier obscured records beneath the new ones—and modern technology is the key to their rediscovery

In a pioneering effort from 2000 to 2008, advanced imaging revealed the erased text and diagrams of Archimedes’ unique mathematical works. This year, researchers couriered a translation of an early medical work by Galen to one of the world's most powerful x-ray sources in an attempt to reveal obscured texts. And images of erased religious and historical texts from the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai are now freely available online for research.

Michael B. Toth, ‎president of R. B. Toth Associates in Oakton, Virginia, examines the importance of these historic palimpsests, how they were created, and efforts over the years to reveal the scraped-off works—from destructive reagents used by early scholars to current conservation-friendly techniques. He discusses the once-hidden information revealed by developing technologies, including advanced camera systems and X-ray synchrotrons, used by the international teams of researchers he leads to reclaim and share precious texts once thought lost forever.

Inside Science

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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)