Multispectral imaging of the Syriac Galen palimpsest by Mike Toth (R.B. Toth Associates)
Palimpsests are parchment manuscripts that have had their original text scrubbed off and overwritten, sometimes more than once. The faint traces of the original writings offer rare insights into early knowledge that would otherwise have been lost, but in many cases are now almost impossible to read.
With new imaging technology developed over the past two decades, these forgotten and hidden texts can now be revealed and shared again. These include a trove of secular and religious works in an isolated 6th-century monastery; the earliest work of Archimedes; a translation of Galen’s medical work scattered across multiple libraries; an early history in the Vatican; and two layers of early religious text discovered in a Minnesota monastery library palimpsest.
Michael B. Toth, president of R. B. Toth Associates in Oakton, Virginia, leads a fascinating scientific and historical trek as he reveals how he and his teams have developed and applied technologies adapted from satellite imaging, medicine, and other fields to the study of these early manuscripts. In stories of projects spanning the globe from the barren and remote St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Desert to national libraries and private collections, he examines how hidden undertexts of palimpsests are revealed; discusses the loss and rediscovery of early knowledge in multiple languages; and shares the process of tracking down and digitizing rare manuscripts.
Toth leads and manages his firm’s development and operation of new technologies for the digital study, access, and preservation of cultural objects in libraries, museums, and archives.
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