High Tech Tools Help Unlock the Secrets of the Past
December 16, 2013

High Tech Tools Help Unlock The Secrets Of The Past

Advanced imaging technologies are allowing researchers to, in essence, see into the past. This was notable by two recent announcements this month.

The Archimedes Palimpsest Project, which has been working for more than a decade to preserve the oldest surviving copy of treatises by the classical mathematician Archimedes, recently revealed a previously unknown Archimedes work, his treatise called The Method of Mechanical Theorems. This involved a process in which the Walters Art Museum worked on a 10th century copy of Archimedes’ mathematical treatises in the original Greek.

Unknown for hundreds of years, the document was purchased in 1998 at a rare document auction by an anonymous collector. It was subsequently loaned to the Walters Art Museum for conservation, imaging, and transcription.

“It was in horrible condition, having suffered a thousand years of weather, travel, and abuse,” said Will Noel, Archimedes Project Director and then curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum, in a 2011 news release.

One the preservation process was completed, in which adhesive was removed from the folds, the texts went through a series of high-tech imaging processes where the team found ancient text and even diagrams. This process of gathering the seemingly lost data included the utilization of various light sources including ultraviolet light, strobe and tungsten, while synchrotron radiation was even implemented with help from the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. In all, numerous 20th and 21st century techniques were used to find lost texts that hadn’t been seen in what is likely centuries.

In other project 3D scanning was used to better chronicle Ireland’s Ogham stones. Often located in remote and exposed parts of Ireland, this presented a challenge of recording the data in high resolution. To accomplish this field work, the team utilized a forensics tent to create a controlled light environment, which allowed for an exact measurement that could proceed regardless of the highly unpredictable Irish weather.

This was part of a joint project supported by The Discovery Program and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, which looked into the history of the Irish language.

The scanning was undertaken using the fastest speed setting on the scanners and with a minimum 400mm depth of field. This data was reportedly able to provide sufficient overlap between scans to ensure easy registration of the various stones.

After the scans were completed, the post-processing was conducted with Artec Studio 9 software, which enabled the researchers to edit and align the individual scans. The 3D scanning was reportedly the best method of recording these rare Irish stones because, after 15 centuries, many of the Ogham inscriptions have become quite subtle due to weathering and the simple ravishes of time.

3D data further provides the removal of color data, which could help researchers better see the object and not discolorations located on the surface.

This provided a view that allowed researchers to study inscriptions that were previously unknown or hard to decipher. As a result, this could help researcher’s further pursue the research into what is believed to the first and ancient language of the people of Ireland.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Cnet.com, and Fortune.com. Peter is a regular writer for redOrbit.com.

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