Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Story of the Archimedes Manuscript

This article doesn't actually consider the results of the decoding of the manuscript. There is also a bit about who Archimedes was, what he acheived and how he died, but it mainly takes a long and disapproving look at what happened to the manuscript over the course of its existence until today.

The texts, formulas and drawings by Archimedes, executed in brown ink, were erased in the Middle Ages and overwritten with a religious text. Specialists at the museum irradiated the pages, made of goat leather, with UV light. Then they were bombarded with X-rays in the particle accelerator at Stanford University to bring out the traces of iron in the Byzantine ink. NASA experts were also involved in analyzing the work. What, if any, are the fruits of all this labor? Has it revealed Archimedes "in a completely new light," as the Beck publishing house has proclaimed? Absolutely not.

. . .

It is, of course, not entirely accurate to claim, as the Beck publishing house does, that "the history of mathematics must be completely rewritten" based on the information gleaned from the analysis -- especially since the work was discovered in the academic world long ago. One hundred and fifty years ago, Konstantin von Tischendorf, a scholar in the German city of Leipzig, found the unsightly little book in the monastery library at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and recognized its "mathematic" content.