Stanford Scientists Analyze Ancient Greek Document
Aug. 2 - KGO (KGO) -- Archimedes was the Einstein of his time, an ancient Greek with a brain so brilliant, scientists are still struggling to understand some of what he wrote. Now they're using an extraordinary device housed at Stanford to decipher the oldest known copy of his work.
Talk about irony. It was the Greek mathematician Archimedes who invented the screw, but he could never have imagined what we saw today. The threads of a screw moving an x-ray at Stanford University -- beneath it, an ancient document containing material that he originally wrote.
Dr. William Noel Ph.D., project director: "It was written 2,230 years ago."
For Dr. William Noel and his team in the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab, this is the kind of project that bridges ancient history with the present.
Dr. William Noel: "I'm saying it's the building block of western science. If you look at Newton and Galileo, no one is quoted more than Archimedes."
They quote the math on this parchment. It is privately owned and the oldest known copy of his research. But here's the twist. Everything here was erased and covered up beneath other layers of more recent art work and prayers. People commonly did that with parchment in the old days.
Uwe Bergmann, physicist: "They were recycling. In order to write a book you need a flock of sheep. And it's easier to erase an old text than to get fresh parchment from a flock of sheep."
Essentially, we are talking about a format change. The equivalent of moving from a 78 record to a CD-rom. In this case, from Papyrus scroll to a book in parchment. They saved only what they thought was important.
ABC7's Wayne Freedman: "They didn't know what they had?"
"They had no idea. It was the middle of the dark ages and they were happy to stay among themselves and pray."
And so an x-ray the width of a human hair, peering through different layers of ink based on the iron it contains. Dr. Keith Knox does the imaging.
Dr. Keith Knox: "It's just the opportunity to pull out information that is buried in something you can't see."
Information that already shows Archimedes delved deeper into math than we ever imagined. Secrets of a great mind from before this millennium, emerging a line at a time.
The Exploratorium will hold a live webcast with scientists studying the Ancient writings of Archimedes on August 4th at 4pm. Watch the webcast here.
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