Digital Proceedings of the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age


The Archimedes Palimpsest is considered by many to be the most important scientific manuscript ever sold at auction. It was purchased at a Christie’s sale on October 1998, by an anonymous collector for $2,000,000. The collector deposited the Palimpsest at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, for exhibition, conservation, imaging and scholarly study in 1999. Work has been ongoing ever since. The Archimedes Palimpsest contains seven of the Greek mathematician’s treatises. The manuscript was written in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) in the 10th century. In the 13th century, the manuscript was taken apart, and the Archimedes text was scraped off. The parchment was reused by a monk who created a prayer book. The Archimedes manuscript then effectively disappeared. Since 1999, intense efforts have been made to retrieve the Archimedes text. Many techniques have been employed, including multispectral imaging, x-ray flourescence imaging and synchrotron x-ray scanning at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California. The imaging efforts have led to a re-evaluation of the work of Archimedes, and to the retrieval of entirely new texts from the ancient world.