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Stanford Accelerator Uncovers Archimedes' Text 392

Posted by timothy
from the 2-quarts-olive-oil-1-bunch-grapes-goat-milk dept.
AI Playground points to a Newsday.com report which reads in part "A particle accelerator is being used to reveal the long-lost writings of the Greek mathematician Archimedes, work hidden for centuries after a Christian monk wrote over it in the Middle Ages. Highly focused X-rays produced at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center were used last week to begin deciphering the parts of the 174-page text that have not yet been revealed."
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Stanford Accelerator Uncovers Archimedes' Text

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 22, 2005 @12:51AM (#12603168)
    we have it!

    "What is Six Times... NINE?"
  • Being done (Score:5, Interesting)

    by panxerox (575545) * on Sunday May 22, 2005 @12:53AM (#12603176)
    There is lots of this work going on now see here "A Library of Mud and Ashes [byu.edu]" Great stuff will come from this.
    • Re:Being done (Score:5, Informative)

      by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:11AM (#12603266) Homepage Journal
      Yes, similar techniques to the X-Ray fluorescence are being used on a wide range of archaeological finds, from illegible scrolls found in Italy to manuscripts found in various rubbish tips from the dark ages and before.


      Actually, the idea seems to have started about 15-20 years ago, of using various attributes to read xsuch documents. A technique was developed in the UK - I believe it was called ESDA - which used magnetic fields and extremely fine iron dust to detect indentations left in paper when layers further up had been written on.


      The technique hit the news during the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad fiasco, when it was demonstrated, by use of this technique, that "confessions" had been altered after they had been signed by the supposed confessee. It led to a lot of cases being thrown out on appeal, and a subsequent inquiry as to what had happened.


      Other popular techniques include the use of various frequencies of light and/or UV, to reveal marks that wouldn't otherwise be visible, which is how some of the more "legible" parts of the palimpset of Archimedes were photographed prior to this.


      Chemical techniques exist, but archaeologists are wary of anything that can damage an ancient find, unless it is so far beyond salvage that preservation of the original would be impossible anyway. Even then, they don't like it and try to avoid it.

      • DCMA (Score:4, Funny)

        by hhawk (26580) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:54AM (#12603387) Homepage Journal
        Clearly this is a violation of DCMA... ;)
      • Re:Being done (Score:4, Interesting)

        by the gnat (153162) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @02:08AM (#12603423)
        archaeologists are wary of anything that can damage an ancient find

        The funny thing is, I use a synchrotron regularly to study protein crystals, and we're always freaked out about radiation damage to our proteins. All of our crystals are frozen in liquid nitrogen, and kept cool in a cryojet while collecting data. (At room temperature, crystals fry extremely fast.) I'm curious how they protected the document while doing this study. It wouldn't be hard to burn it, unless they're using extremely short exposure times or a very diffuse beam.
        • Re:Being done (Score:3, Informative)

          by RWerp (798951)
          I suppose they use other wavelengths, longer ones (they're not trying to tell the position of each atom in their artefact, just the density variations -- I suppose). Longer wavelengths -- lower frequencies -- lower energy of the photons -- less damage.
        • Re:Being done (Score:5, Informative)

          by eimerkopf (797789) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @06:14AM (#12604024)
          I'm not a protein crystallographer, but I do work at a synchrotron and do lots of x-ray absorption and diffraction experiments. I've never had a problem with x-ray damage to my samples (mostly inorganic solids). Susceptibility to radiation damage varies from material to material. From my understanding, protein crystals are particularly bad, presumably because they not respond well (in a chemical sense) to the large numbers of electrons generated after an x-ray absorption event. This basically causes impurities in the crystal (local changes in the structure factor) that degrade the diffraction measurement. Also, in your typical protein diffraction experiment, you irradiate a particular spot on the crystal for a very long time. I would guess that this is not so much an issue in this case, because (1) no one is really interested in the chemical structure of the parchment itself, and (2) a particular spot on the sample is exposed only for a very short time. Incidentally, there's a better write-up of this at Stanford: http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/may25/a rchimedes-052505.html [stanford.edu]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 22, 2005 @12:54AM (#12603181)
    May I be the first (O.K., second) to run naked through the streets of Syracuse crying, "Eureka!".
  • I for one (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 22, 2005 @12:56AM (#12603189)
    urge someone to step up and STOP this blatant piracy of Archimedes valuable IP!!!
    • by powerlord (28156) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:01AM (#12603219) Journal

      I for one urge someone to step up and STOP this blatant piracy of Archimedes valuable IP!!!


      Next thing you know someone will start trying to distribute the stuff on some website ...
    • ...that the last few years of Archimedes' life was spent in a futile (but magnificent) attempt to stop the Romans pillaging his city of all kinds of IP. And people, materials, etc.


      It's also ironic that he was killed by a Roman soldier, who was trying to steal his IP by stealing him. (He was busy and told the soldier to go screw himself.)

      • as Archimedes Plutonium [wikipedia.org]. According to the aforelinked repository of unblemished truth that is Wikipedia, Archimedes has since discovered

        1. Plutonium Atom Totality theory. According to this theory, there was no Big Bang, but rather growth from a "Hydrogen Atom Totality" into the present "Plutonium Atom Totality", in which "the galaxies are dots of the electron dot cloud".

        2. Fusion Barrier Principle. Quoting Plutonium, "Fission energy is the highest form of energy that is able to be controlled and surpass breakeven".

        3. Unification of the Forces of Physics as a Coulomb Unification.

        4. Stonethrowing theory. This theory states that the difference between apes and humans resulted some 8 to 10 million years ago from a solo quadruped ape that "started throwing rocks overarm and overhead". This activity gave the ape advantages in getting food and more females for mating purposes "by killing other rivals using throwing".

        5. Possibility of global warming reversal. According to Plutonium's theory, there exists a CFC variant or methyl molecule that when produced and released will act as an "upper atmosphere earth air conditioner and reverse global warming"."
        "

        Despite that the brilliance of his ideas so obviously extended the work of Archimedes the Greek, it took the reincarnated Archimedes 44 years to realize that he was in fact Archimedes:

        In autumn of 1994 he claims to have realized that he was the reincarnation of the great early Greek scientist Archimedes, and so once again changed his name to Archimedes Plutonium.

        What I want to know is why we continue to dwell so much on Archimedes' old work when he has been producing so much insight as of late and it has yet to be properly appreciated.
    • by Marvin_OScribbley (50553) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @06:00AM (#12603993) Homepage Journal
      Archimedes last words were: "You may take my life, but I will take my mind" thereby indicating his retention of intellectual property rights.
    • by Joe Jarvis (712473)

      Somewhere, a communications major in a dream job is writing:

      "There is no better example of how theft dims the magic of history for everyone than this report today regarding SLAC providing users with illegal copies of Archimedes' ancient work. The unfortunate fact is this type of theft happens on a regular basis using particle accelerators all over the world."
  • They're using a particle accelerator hey? Well I hope if anything goes wrong they remember to depolarize the fibrulator.
  • by James A. Y. Joyce (877365) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @12:58AM (#12603201)
    ...Archimedes' estimations of the value of pi by drawing polygons with lots of sides [wikipedia.org]?
  • by FlyByPC (841016) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:00AM (#12603210) Homepage
    Archimedes helps invent modern mathematics,
    Modern math (after surviving the Dark Ages) enables modern science,
    Modern science gives us nifty toys like particle accelerators...
    ...which we're using to read Archimedes' writings.

    I can't help but think the guy would really get a kick out of that.
  • X-Ray Fluroescence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:00AM (#12603211) Homepage Journal
    The actual technique used is quite ingenious, but has been around for a while. If you blast the nucleus of an atom with X-Rays of a frequency specific to that type of atom, it will radiate electrons. No other atom will do so, so you can get an exact picture of what is there.


    (Actually, the reverse is also true. If you bombard atoms with electrons of the right energy, the atoms will radiate X-Rays.)


    The very brief article submitted by the poster does not do this subject justice, as this is a highly sophisticated story involving the specific nature of ancient inks, the problems of 12th century economics which reduced many cultures to reprocessing books (the results of which are called palimpsets), the fact that these texts are direct transcripts of the original scrolls written by Archimedes, in their original format, the fact that the book was stored in a city that was virtually razed to the ground during the 4th Crusade, the fact that the book went missing during the early part of the 20th century, etc.


    It also doesn't cover the fact that the pages are badly damaged by fungi, age, fire, vandalism, the whole palimpset process, poor storage, etc.


    This is a truly amazing story, that covers both some of the most ancient and most modern of sciences, involving wars, religion, several renesance periods without which the text would have been lost forever, and numerous other adventures that would put the entire Indiana Jones series to shame.


    This story deserves telling in the full, especially on a site like Slashdot where people have the background to appreciate the nuances involved.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:06AM (#12603238)
      This story deserves telling in the full, especially on a site like Slashdot where people have the background to appreciate the nuances involved

      M$Winblows is teh sux. The gummint is out to get us. Dumbya sux0rs. Gentoo is l337. Star Wars rules.

      Yup, we appreciate it.

      • "M$Winblows is teh sux. The gummint is out to get us. Dumbya sux0rs. Gentoo is l337. Star Wars rules."

        Sometimes I wonder if karma originally started as a model of capitalism. Most comments like that are an appeal to those with mod points.
    • by Mr2001 (90979) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:08AM (#12603246) Homepage Journal
      ... this is a highly sophisticated story involving the specific nature of ancient inks, the problems of 12th century economics which reduced many cultures to reprocessing books (the results of which are called palimpsets)

      I'll probably get modded down for this spelling nitpick, but I think you mean "palimpsests". I misspelled that word before a national audience in 1992, don't want you to make the same mistake in this international forum. ;)
    • by Seumas (6865) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:12AM (#12603268)
      by jd (1658)

      This story deserves telling in the full, especially on a site like Slashdot where people have the background to appreciate the nuances involved.


      You must be new here.
    • by mboverload (657893)
      Although many will be quick to jump on the damn monk that wrote over one of the most important texts in history, that is what saved it from destruction and damage.

      PBS did an AWESOME ducomentary on it.

    • by the gnat (153162)
      If you blast the nucleus of an atom with X-Rays of a frequency specific to that type of atom, it will radiate electrons. No other atom will do so, so you can get an exact picture of what is there.

      I thought this was particularly cool because it's the exact technique used to determine the majority of new protein structures. I would not have predicted that it would be equally well suited towards a completely different type of imaging, particularly for something so esoteric as ancient manuscripts. (On a sid
  • I just hope ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by vlad_petric (94134) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:01AM (#12603217) Homepage
    The text is not going to be "partly censored" as the Dead Sea Scrolls were until the 90's.

    Dead Sea scrolls [wikipedia.org]

  • by Hamster Lover (558288) * on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:03AM (#12603227) Journal
    I watched a program about the amazing discoveries uncovered through the painstaking analysis of this parchment.

    One of the most stunning discoveries was the description by Archimedes of his method for finding the area under a curve though a rudimentary form of integral calculus, 2000 years before Newton or Leibniz!

    He established the law of levers, found the relationship of the area of a cylinder to a sphere (which he believed to be his greatest discovery and he directed a model of which to be inscribed on his tomb), described the relationship of volume and buoyancy in water (his eureka! moment), among many other mathematical and mechanical discoveries.

    A true genius that stands with Newton, Pascal and others.
  • by Gabrill (556503) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:04AM (#12603230)
    They will turn the accelerator to more useful purposes, like seeing all the women in the Sears catalog without their underwear.
  • by Quirk (36086) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:06AM (#12603239) Homepage Journal
    Archimedes claimed: "Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world."

    He developed the claim into The Claw [drexel.edu], which must have been a wonder to see in action. I've never been able to find out if the Roman soldier who killed him was punished or had anything to say. Archimedes was an engineer who applied the principles of Euclidean geometry.

    • by ddimas (629883)
      I've never been able to find out if the Roman soldier who killed him was punished or had anything to say.

      That soldier was tortured to death over three days by being flayed alive and rubbed with salt, with the entire legion watching. The commander was FURIOUS!

  • by lheal (86013) <lheal1999 AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:08AM (#12603247) Journal
    It was Archimedes who was quoted as saying,
    Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth.

    That got translated from the original Attic Greek into common Greek, then into High Latin, then Vulgar Latin, and then into Old French, then soon after that into Old English. When William the Conqueror took over England in 1066, the new language that got created got it a little mixed up at first:

    Give me but one firm spot on which to sit, and I will move my bowels.

    Somehow it doesn't seem to mean quite the same thing, but I can't quite figure out where the difference is.

  • NOVA torrent (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:37AM (#12603345)
    There's a good documentary of this on Nova [pbs.org] called "Infinite Secrets of Archimedes".

    You can grab a torrent from digitaldistractions [digitaldistractions.org].
  • Rambaldi (Score:5, Funny)

    by BBrown (70466) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:40AM (#12603357)
    Were any Alias fans (or just Jennifer Garner fans) out there reminded of Rambaldi? [alias-tv.com]
  • Old Man Tucket
    Sat upon a bucket
    Eating his beans and grits

    Until he got an urge
    To squeeze hard and purge
    As he got a case of the shits

    The smell wafted and sailed
    For miles philosophers hailed
    Of how it pillaged their wits!
  • Perspective (Score:5, Funny)

    by Silvrmane (773720) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:55AM (#12603391) Homepage
    Boy, this really puts my efforts to retrieve my old Amiga files off 10 year old 8mm Exabyte tapes in perspective. ;)
  • by barfy (256323) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @01:59AM (#12603397)
    - International Treasure -

    From the hidden writings of archmides to the hidden messages found in the back of euro notes. Ancient tunnels under ancient cities open up to reveal secrets nobody has seen for millenia...
    Until NOW...

    Coming soon to a theater near you,
  • If only... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Doorjam (770005) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @03:17AM (#12603603)
    This story wouldn't be here today if the Christian monk had erased Archimedes text using the US Government DOD 5220.22-M standard.
  • by danila (69889)
    Nova - Infinite Secrets Of Archimedes [digitaldistractions.org] - a documentary about this (though the latest X-Ray news not included).
  • It's a cookbook !!!!
  • The message (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 22, 2005 @07:24AM (#12604175)
    "Be sure... To drink... Your Ovaltine..."
  • by cocoamix (560647) on Sunday May 22, 2005 @12:57PM (#12605451)
    The technique being used sounds like an Electron Probe, or Wavelength Dispersive Spectroscopy. Here is a nice Java application demonstrating Bragg's Law, on which the techniques are based. [stonybrook.edu]

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly

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