The Writings of Timbuktu
The December, 2006 issue of Smithsonian magazine has an article about the recovery of old writings in Timbuktu in Mali. It turns out that Timbuktu was a center of learning in the 16th century. Then political forces came in and caused the death or removal of the scholars and Timbuktu faded from the academic scene. But not before certain families saved many of the books from those times. Through many generations the books were preserved, even to the point of burying them to protect them during times of war.
Now this treasure is being restored and properly cared for. With grants from various sources, including the United Nations, several Islamic countries, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, more and more of these books are being found. Their decaying pages are being protected in special acid-free paper. New libraries are being built. Volumes are being digitized into computers. It’s all very exciting, read the full story at the Smithsonian website link above.
The Archimedes Palimpsest
Here’s a second astounding find, complete with its very own website. The story goes like this. A prayer book was copied by a scribe in the year 1229. But paper back then was hard to come by. So what they often did was to scrape off the writing from some old book and reuse the paper for the new one. That’s what was done in this case.
And that’s where the miracle of modern scanning technology comes in. It’s now possible using something called multispectral imaging to tease out the under-text that was removed to create the prayer book. The wonderful thing is that this under-text consists of at least seven treatises by the Greek mathematician Archimedes. Some of these writings were believed lost forever until they showed up in the palimpsest. Because of this rare find, a while chapter of man’s intellectual history is being restored. According to the palimpsest website, “The manuscript was bought at auction by an anonymous American collector who deposited the book at The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, for conversation, imaging, and scholarly study, in January 1999. Work on the Palimpsest, funded by the owner, has been ongoing ever since.”