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New X-Ray Machine Reveals Ancient Wisdom

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Author Topic: New X-Ray Machine Reveals Ancient Wisdom  (Read 217 times)
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« on: May 23, 2007, 04:05:03 pm »

New X-ray machine reveals ancient wisdom
Faded stone inscriptions can be ‘zapped, mapped’ — then read once more

Cornell University
The letters of an ancient inscription are hard to make out in the original stone .   


By Robert Roy Britt
Senior writer

Much of what ancient scribes carved in stone is lost to weathering. Among the hard-to-read are tablets from Draco, a rather severe politician who codified the laws of ancient Athens.

A new technique promises to reveal these and other stone scribblings using X-rays.

Scientists figure there are at least half a million Greek and Latin inscriptions on stones in various states of decay and legibility.

"Because of the information contained in them, they are invaluable sources for the historian, archaeologist, art historian and every student of institutions and life in the ancient world," said Kevin Clinton, a Cornell University professor of classics and co-author of a new paper on the technique.

Cornell researchers developed a process called X-ray fluorescence imaging to recover faded text on stone by "zapping and mapping" the inscriptions.

The group built a machine that generates X-rays a million times more intense than what the doctor uses to image your bones. An X-ray beam is fired at a stone, scanning back and forth. Atoms on the stone's surface emit lower-energy fluorescent X-rays, and different wavelength emissions reveal zinc, iron and other elements in the stone.

Historians know that iron chisels were commonly used to inscribe stone, and the letters were usually painted with pigments containing metal oxides and sulfides. So where letters and numbers are no longer visible to the eye, the newfound minerals trace their shapes.

Tests conducted on stone tablets 100 generations old clearly reveal writing that was lost to the eye.

The study of incised writing on stone and other surfaces is called epigraphy.

"This means restoring thousands of stones, including, possibly, part of the law code of Draco," Clinton said. "It applies to practically any kind of public document you can think of, including many laws, decrees, religious dedications and financial documents."

You've heard Draco's name referred to in phrases starting with "Draconian." He didn't make up the laws, but he was the first to get them written down. Back then, minor offenses carried the death penalty, and debt was a road to slavery.

"X-ray fluorescence imaging has the potential to become a major tool in epigraphy." said Robert Thorne, Cornell professor of physics. "It's just so much more powerful than anything that's been used in the past."

The technique will be detailed in the German journal Papyrology and Epigraphy.

Earlier this year, scientists said they were using a particle accelerator to reveal writings of the Greek mathematician Archimedes.

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« Last Edit: May 23, 2007, 10:18:47 pm by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2007, 04:19:09 pm »

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« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2007, 04:27:24 pm »

X-rays reveal Archimedes' hidden writings

Particle accelerator helps decipher fragile 10th century manuscript

 Uwe Bermann, Stanford University's physicist, points to words from a manuscript by Greek mathematician Archime

SAN FRANCISCO - Previously hidden writings of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes are being uncovered with powerful X-ray beams nearly 800 years after a Christian monk scrubbed off the text and wrote over it with prayers.

Over the past week, researchers at Stanford University's Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park have been using X-rays to decipher a fragile 10th century manuscript that contains the only copies of some of Archimedes' most important works.

The X-rays, generated by a particle accelerator, cause tiny amounts of iron left by the original ink to glow without harming the delicate goatskin parchment.
"We are gaining new insights into one of the founding fathers of western science," said William Noel, curator of manuscripts at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum, which organized the effort.  "It is the most difficult imaging challenge on any medieval document because the book is in such terrible condition."

Following a successful trial run last year, Stanford researchers invited X-ray scientists, rare document collectors and classics scholars to take part in the 11-day project.

It takes about 12 hours to scan one page using an X-ray beam about the size of a human hair, and researchers expect to decipher up to 15 pages that resisted modern imaging techniques. After each new page is decoded, it is posted online for the public to see.

On Friday, members of the public watched the decoding process via a live Web cast arranged by the San Francisco Exploratorium.

"We are focusing on the most difficult pages where the scholars haven't been able to read the texts," said Uwe Bergmann, the Stanford physicist heading the project.

Born in the 3rd century B.C., Archimedes is considered one of ancient Greece's greatest mathematicians, perhaps best known for discovering the principle of buoyancy while taking a bath.

The 174-page manuscript, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, contains the only copies of treatises on flotation, gravity and mathematics. Scholars believe a scribe copied them onto the goatskin parchment from the original Greek scrolls.

Three centuries later, a monk scrubbed off the Archimedes text and used the parchment to write prayers at a time when the Greek mathematician's work was less appreciated.  In the early 20th century, forgers tried to boost the manuscript's value by painting religious imagery on some of the pages.

In 1998, an anonymous private collector paid $2 million for the manuscript at an auction, then loaned it to the Walter Arts Museum for safekeeping and study.

Over the past eight years, researchers have used ultraviolet and infrared filters, as well as digital cameras and processing techniques, to reveal most of the buried text, but some pages were still unreadable.

"We will never recover all of it," Noel said.  "We are just getting as much as we can, and we are going to the ends of the earth to get it."

« Last Edit: May 23, 2007, 04:29:38 pm by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2007, 06:06:48 pm »

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