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Eureka! Archimedes Revealed 244

pin_gween writes "The Mercury News has an AP wire that shows science uncovering history. 800 years ago a monk scrubbed the text off a goatskin parchment to write prayers. Nothing unusual there, except the parchment contained writings from a copy of Archimedes' Palimpsest. Now scientists are using x-rays, generated by a particle accelerator, to cause tiny amounts of iron left by the original ink to glow without harming the delicate goatskin parchment. It takes 12 hours to scan one page, then the information is posted online."
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Eureka! Archimedes Revealed

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  • by jfinke ( 68409 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:17AM (#15851896) Homepage
    So, in other words, you could say that Archimedes had the first post. :) Sorry, could not resist.
  • But I want it NOW!!
  • Eureka! (Score:5, Funny)

    by colonslashslash ( 762464 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:19AM (#15851905) Homepage
    It is the most difficult imaging challenge on any medieval document because the book is in such terrible condition.


    Well, that, and the fact that some monk dude scrawled his love letters to god all over the bloody text!

    • Re:Eureka! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dmccarty ( 152630 )
      It's thanks to those "love letters to God" you disdain that the palimpset survived at all.
      • Re:Eureka! (Score:2, Interesting)

        I think you're missing the point. We don't NEED the writings now. We already understand calculus. It was needed in Archimedes times. It's because of those ignorant monks who didn't care for "worldly knowledge" and instead preffered to write the same old love letters to invisible men that mathematics was set back 2000 years.
      • Re:Eureka! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cmarkn ( 31706 ) on Sunday August 06, 2006 @06:11PM (#15856679)
        Praising the Church for preserving ancient knowledges is like praising Hitler for preserving a few Jews. The destruction that the palimpset survived was the intentional destruction of ancient writing by the Church. It is completely ridiculous that the Church gets so much credit for saving the few classics that we have by over-writing them, which was meant as destruction, instead of any blame for the greater mass that were lost forever when the Church burned them. Anything from the ancients that survived the Dark Ages was not because the Church preserved them, but simply because they failed to complete their plan to burn all the ancient books, just as Hitler failed to complete his plan to burn all the European Jews.

        Screw Godwin's Law. This is one of those rare times when the comparison is appropriate.
  • Text read (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:30AM (#15851932)
    4 Carrots
    2 Pints of milk
    Brithday card for aunt Mavis
  • New stuff (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:32AM (#15851937)
    I heard an interview with one of the scientists on the CBC. He said that there was possibly some new stuff that we didn't know about. In particular, there seems to be a section which tries to figure out how many different ways there are to solve a problem. So it seems that Archimedes was wondering about combinotorics.
  • Not quite perfect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:33AM (#15851941) Homepage
    Although this is a cool discovery, it would have been cooler if the lost writings were by a Greek intellectual whom we have less information about, say Heraclitus. Well, there is always the possibility that this technique could be used to recover other "lost" texts.
    • by Unknown_monkey ( 938642 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:48AM (#15851987)
      My last girlfriend complained that I didn't know enough about Heraclitus and that's why she was leaving. I didn't realize she knew that much about ancient greeks. I guess she studied Heraclitus a lot on her own when I fell asleep.
    • Re:Not quite perfect (Score:2, Informative)

      by m000 ( 187652 )

      The palimpsest includes writings from authors other than Archimedes, though he is by far the best-represented.

      Another book they used, we now know, contained works by the 4th century B.C. Attic Orator Hyperides. Prior to the discovery of the Hyperides text in the manuscript, this orator was only known from papyrus fragments and from quotations of his work by other authors. The Palimpsest, however, contains 10 pages of Hyperides text.

      Yet further books were used to make up the Palimpsest. Six folios come

  • ...except the parchment contained writings from a copy of Archimedes' Palimpsest.

    The object in question IS the palimpsest, not the text hidden on it. At least NPR got that much right :-)
  • So you'll know ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:39AM (#15851960)
    This is a fairly obscure term, so most non-specialists don't know it. A "palimpsest" is a piece of parchment that has been re-used. This particular palimpsest contains stuff by Archimedes; and so it is called "the Archimedes Palimpsest." It is not "a copy of Archimedes' Palimpsest," it is THE Archimedes palimpsest.
  • Regressive Upgrade (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:40AM (#15851964) Homepage Journal
    I can't wait to see what the first, original layer of Archimedes' Palimpsest, the one Archimedes erased for blanks, contained. Maybe we'll have to backdate some of that "Archimedean" knowledge to someone else.
  • by schabot ( 941087 ) <s.chabot@gmail.PLANCKcom minus physicist> on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:41AM (#15851970) Homepage
    Finally I can use my LIS nerdiness on slashdot, bastion of computer, science, and math nerds.

    The summary says "Nothing unusual there, except the parchment contained writings from a copy of Archimedes' Palimpsest," using the term palimpsest incorrectly. By calling it "a copy of Archimedes' Palimpsest," the summary implies that Archimedes wrote something--a Palimpsest--which was then copied and found on this random scrap of parchment.

    In actuality, a palimpsest [wikipedia.org] is a parchment already inscribed where the original ink was scraped off for reuse. Parchment, being the skin of a calf, sheep or goat, was in the Middle Ages very expensive (there is an argument that the Gutenberg revolution was fuelled more by cheap paper then by the printing press, but I digress). It was not discarded, but often reused by monks in Medieval scriptoria.

    Many works from antiquity, once thought lost, are found serendipitously through palimpsest, many of them pagan works overwritten in favour of Christian ones. So, what we have found is a palimpsest of a manuscript copy of Archimedes, not a copy of Archimedes' palimpsest
  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @08:50AM (#15851992) Homepage
    "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days, bribery and corruption
    are common, children no longer obey their parents and the end of the
    world is evidently approaching." --Archimedes goatskin, 210 B.C.

    -
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @09:01AM (#15852017) Journal
    It takes 12 hours to scan one page, then the information is posted online.
    Then the information is bombarded with /. access requests.
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @09:04AM (#15852026)
    I had a bible on vellum made by some printing company called Gutenberg, but some asshole called Martin Luther scribbeld all these corrections over it, so I used it to light the fireplace.
  • by tonyr1988 ( 962108 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @09:21AM (#15852069)
    chmod 711
  • <rant>

    If there's one thing that drives me nuts about science these days is that there seems to be such an effort to maintain a hard line between the academics and the "public"...

    ...how can anyone really get a feel for the importance of this discovery if they don't post some of the translated texts? Oh, I forgot- We're supposed to accept the fact that it's important because they say so- We don't have to bother reading any of the actual text and evaluate its value for ourselves...

    Admittedly, they could be buried deep in the website somewhere were I coudn't find them... or, maybe they are still working on official translations and don't want to put anything that's inaccurate on the site, but I doubt it- Instead, the passages the translated probably sound boring and so they'll publish it in obscure science journals- All the public will hear about (I fear) is "Look! We're so cool for recovering the pampliset!"

    True, they are cool for translating this thing, I agree- But why not give the public a better pathway into understanding the meaning of this find by showing us the money? Would it really kill them? Maybe we, the public, can appreciate the inherent value of even some obscure, boring-sounding passages?

    I have the same complaint about PBS and the recent special on "String Theory"- These science programs (which are admittedly better than nothing) work so hard to be accessible that they put a subconscious barrier between "average people" and "scientists" that I think becomes self defeating to the advancement of science- A PBS program on String Theory would be far more awesome if there was an attempt made to make the program a gateway into the science, giving a few basic formulas and some feeling for the real science. Sure, the formulas might seem a bit boring and basic and maybe some folks won't take the mental effort to try to follow along... but a small peek "under the hood" (even if you don't understand it) would still be far more interesting than a bunch of bland generalizations that just tells you they don't think people really care about the important details. </rant>
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @09:32AM (#15852104)
      a hard line between the academics and the "public"...

            The hard line is in your head. Scientists are part of "the public".

            The only thing stopping you from becoming a scientist is a few years of education. During this process you will not only learn the important stuff but also more importantly you will learn where and how to find the knowledge you need. There's no conspiracy to keep information from you, but it seems that you want to know things without actually having to learn them. No one is obligated to pour knowledge into your head. That stopped once mom and dad got fed up of answering your questions as a toddler. You can find all of those "obscure science magazines" at any decent library, or online. Perhaps you would also like to complain about scientists writing in "obscure technical jargon" in these magazines as well?
      • > There's no conspiracy to keep information from you...

        I am being a little hard on them, admittedly... I just think they created this nice public website for a purpose and giving some preliminary translations would further that purpose beautifully...

        > No one is obligated to pour knowledge into your head...

        The Walters Art Museum receives extensive government grants which stipulates that they offer educational resources to the public.
        • I am being a little hard on them, admittedly... I just think they created this nice public website for a purpose and giving some preliminary translations would further that purpose beautifully...

          Preliminary translations will take months - once the have deciphered the images, this isn't just a case of running it through Bablefish.
           
          The first step is character recognition - a human has to examine each character and determine what it is. Once that's done, entire words can be examined to see if they actually are words. (Foulups in the character recognition can pridace wgrds taat kjflas moue aljefh.) Once *that* is done, the words can be strung together and sentences roughly translated - if they orange bluebird, then they have to redo some of the earlier steps. Worse yet, the meaninings of the various Greek words don't map directly into English - so each of the words and possible meanings have to be compared and considered in context. (A single sentence can possible have anywhere from 2-3 to 5 or more possible meanings.) That process has to be repeated again at (what would correspond to) the paragraph level, and then again at the chapter and book levels.
      • Right. So all he needs ia a few years of education, so then he will be a scientist, and of course any scientist can make perfect sense of the untranslated documents.

        I agree with the parent completely - I was hoping to see translations too. Considering the amount of money that has been spent to acquire this imagery, it would be ludicrous to assume that some very knowledgeable people in this field are not translating the text as soon as it is revealed.

        Dan East
    • ...how can anyone really get a feel for the importance of this discovery if they don't post some of the translated texts? Oh, I forgot- We're supposed to accept the fact that it's important because they say so- We don't have to bother reading any of the actual text and evaluate its value for ourselves...

      1) Hasn't it occurred to you that perhaps they haven't been translated yet? It's one thing to do a cursory reading of a text to understand what it's about but translating it is a totally different process

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Here you go, here's a rough, almost meaningless translation of a few lines of one of the transcripts [no, I'm not kidding you; I've taken this from the second directory in the DATA section of the website]; it's almost meaningless because I simply never understood half of what Archimedes was writing (never was good with geometry):

      as (then) [Nu] of a cone [Kappa][Theta] where from the height of [Nu] of the cone (thus) the circle [Nu] to the diameter around the circle [Beta][Zeta] is then equal to this same

      • > as (then) [Nu] of a cone [Kappa][Theta] where from the height of [Nu] of the cone (thus) the circle [Nu] to the diameter around the circle [Beta][Zeta]...

        Thanks for hunting that down- I think that's great! I just wish they would work that fragment into the introductory section of the website- Anyone who's ever had geometry in high school can gleem all kinds of useful things about this fragment:

        1. It shows without much doubt to anyone that they have achieved success, by a direct example.

        2
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I should point out that what I posted was my own incredibly rough translation from the Greek, not a translation by the Archimedes Palimpsest folks. There are good reasons they don't want to officially translate it yet - in classics, you tend to publish a complete transcription and a complete translation together (see the Oxyrrhynchus Papyri for hundreds of examples) months or even years after announcing what you *think* you've found. I tried reading those photos, and they are illegible to me - someone who,

    • But why not give the public a better pathway into understanding the meaning of this find by showing us the money? Would it really kill them? Maybe we, the public, can appreciate the inherent value of even some obscure, boring-sounding passages?

      "Teacher, when will we ever use this? What's the use of knowing ancient Greek?"

      And that's why they don't bother to force-feed the "public" to the level of those who study on their own and become scientists.

      Oh, as for your original question? Perhaps it takes some time
    • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Saturday August 05, 2006 @12:20PM (#15852650) Homepage

      how can anyone really get a feel for the importance of this discovery if they don't post some of the translated texts? Oh, I forgot- We're supposed to accept the fact that it's important because they say so

      Well, unless you have a background in Archimedes, mathematics, or ancient greek (all the domain of "they"), I don't think you're going to be able to understand the importance of even a translated work. Despite your protestations, all opinions on this kind of thing aren't equal. People who have these backgrounds are much more qualified to interpret what this stuff means (and no, that certainly doesn't include me by any stretch of the imagination). I find this attitude kind of strange. You don't actually want to learn any of these subjects, but expect to be able to just read a 2200 year old text and instantly understand the context of the work without listening to what other more qualified people have to say. Would you expect someone who doesn't know C++ to be able to instantly know what the source code of a program means without knowing C++?

      It's more than a little funny that you're critisizing the researchers for publishing the raw scans of the data, (so anyone in the world can study them), but not instantly freely publishing the fruits of their labor. There is often a quite valid criticism of researchers hoarding the raw data of vitally important pieces for years. I believe the dead sea scrolls are a prime example of this. But that's not the case here. If you really wanted to you could learn greek and translate the thing yourself. That's the only "barrier" that exists here.

      There's also another important point to make here. Have you seen the scanned texts? Even with the special x-ray enhanced versions it's a big mess. It's not as if this is a 20 minute job via google translation. This kind of thing is generally done very slowly with groups of people working together. It's also a competition between all these groups to make discoveries. There was a really good Nova special on the text a few months ago, and translating the texts was a very painstaking process.

      Instead, the passages the translated probably sound boring and so they'll publish it in obscure science journals- All the public will hear about (I fear) is "Look! We're so cool for recovering the pampliset!"

      Well, science has long used scientific journals to communicate polished ideas to other people in the field. The papers are written for a specialized audience, so the general public likely wouldn't understand the vast majority of them since it's assumed everyone has a general background in the area of expertise. The main barrier of these journals isn't the obscurity of them. With a little less laziness you could easily go and find the names of them. The main barrier is just expense. It costs a lot of money to subscribe to these journals, so your average Joe just can't afford them. There's a movement to change this because scientists don't like spending thousands of dollars on journals anymore than average Joe does, so many people are moving towards publishing on the internet.

      True, they are cool for translating this thing, I agree- But why not give the public a better pathway into understanding the meaning of this find by showing us the money? Would it really kill them? Maybe we, the public, can appreciate the inherent value of even some obscure, boring-sounding passages?

      Science takes time, and research isn't free. At some point I'm sure that a concensus translation will be available. It might be even made available for free, but I would have no problem with charging money for it. Why should they be expected to give away thousands of hours of work for free? You seem to have this attitude that if it's not published on the front page of the New York Times, then the scientists are trying to hide something.

      I have the same complaint about PBS and the recent special on "String Theory"- These science programs (which are admittedly better than nothing) work
    • ...how can anyone really get a feel for the importance of this discovery if they don't post some of the translated texts? Oh, I forgot- We're supposed to accept the fact that it's important because they say so- We don't have to bother reading any of the actual text and evaluate its value for ourselves...

      Because 99.99% fo the time the importance of said discovery isnt known. Even if it is, it is hard to convey the importance of said discovery is to people.

      Lets hypotheticly take the discovery of a magnetic mo
  • I can just see my parents employing Reverse XRF Calcium imaging on all my 20 year old report cards to detect those F's that I cleverly transformed into B's. They're going to be soo mad I'll get a beating for sure.
  • I listened to an NPR story on this, a few days ago. I must say that the whole idea behind the science of revealing palimpsests is really neat and interesting. It is a shame that wonderful thoughts have been covered over (including paintings and music manuscripts), but it has happened, and the most important thing now (in MHO) is to rediscover the treasures lost.

    Some great paintings, writings, and music manuscripts were covered by their own artists/writers, not just by others. One should, in my opinion,
    • One should, in my opinion, remember to knock the artist/writer on the head with a stick - before they destroy their own work.

      You're assuming that it's easy for them to do this. In my experience, destroying your own work is about the hardest thing you can do -- even if you know it's crap. It's much worse than being being hit with a stick.

      After trying to destroy the manuscript of an unfinished novel of his, a writer was once forced to admit that manuscripts don't burn*. Even if they're destroyed, they'll

  • Archimedes revealed? He had already done his best science work naked.
  • and to be honest I was a bit underwhelmed. I missed the first few minutes, so maybe there was something more interesting going on there. I was hoping at the end when they revealed the page they'd been working on, they might actually translate some of what was on the page, for those of us who don't speak ancient greek.

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