Eureka! Ancient works by Archimedes rediscovered

A series of previously undiscovered texts by Archimedes, one of the foremost mathematicians of ancient Greece, have been revealed.

Hidden since the 13th century under religious writings and drawings, the single parchment on which they are written is made from goat skin. It includes seven treatises by the mathematician, who was particularly noted for calculating a value for Pi and for being the first recorded person to conceive of infinity.

Will Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, and director of the imaging project, described the palimpsest as "the eighth wonder of the world".

Two of the treatises, "The Method of Mechanical Theorems" and the "Stomachion", are the only known copies in the world to have survived. The writings also include the only known version of "On Floating Bodies" in Greek.

Dr Noel said: "Editions of most of the great texts of the ancient world, like Homer, Plato and Euclid, came out in the 15th and 16th centuries, which capture most of what they have to say. With this palimpsest we are in the unique and exciting position of making radical additions and corrections to the basic texts of Archimedes in the 21st century. This is only possible with current technology."

Archimedes' writings, transcribed in the 10th century by an anonymous scribe on to parchment, are being revealed using a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence, by scientists in the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory in the United States.

In the 13th century, the original manuscript was recycled by a monk in Jerusalem called Johannes Myronas, to create a palimpsest. Using a pumice and lemon juice or milk, the monk faded the writings, cut the parchment in half and rotated the pages. These were then filled by the monks with Greek Orthodox prayers.

Then, in the 20th century, a Parisian art forger added gold paintings of the writers of the four Gospels of the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - to add value to the palimpsest - but nearly obliterated the work of the 10th century scribe.

Dr Noel said that the eight years of work that has been undertaken on the palimpsest has also revealed other ancient texts. Among these is a speech made by Hyperides, an Athenian orator in the 4th century BC and a contemporary of Aristotle and Demostenes.

"It is a speech, probably made in 338BC, at the twilight of the Athenian age of democracy. It concerns Athenian reaction to their loss of a battle against Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great," Dr Noel said. In 338BC, the father and son defeated Athens and Thebes.

The privately owned palimpsest, bought by a philanthropist for $2m in 1998 and loaned to the Walters Art Museum, has been investigated previously using optical and digital imaging techniques. But most of the text was indecipherable behind paint. Now, X-ray fluoresence has enabled them to make out the works. Each page takes 12 hours to reconstruct, with X-ray beams the width of a human hair sweeping the pages. As the scientists revealed the first glimpse of the text in 800 years, Dr Noel said the work was "like receiving a fax from the 3rd century BC."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss