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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front of House Team Member

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen