Sunday, October 07, 2007


See? Even The Greeks Dropped Out of Calculus.

An article in this week's Science News discusses this fabulous find:

For seventy years, a prayer book moldered in the closet of a family in France, passed down from one generation to the next. Its mildewed parchment pages were stiff and contorted, tarnished by burn marks and waxy smudges. Behind the text of the prayers, faint Greek letters marched in lines up the page, with an occasional diagram disappearing into the spine. The owners wondered if the strange book might have some value, so they took it to Christie's Auction House of London. And in 1998, Christie's auctioned it off—for two million dollars. For this was not just a prayer book. The faint Greek inscriptions and accompanying diagrams were, in fact, the only surviving copies of several works by the great Greek mathematician Archimedes....

Two of the texts hiding in the prayer book have not appeared in any other copy of Archimedes's work, so no one but Heiberg had studied them until now. One of them, titled The Method, has special historical significance. It could be considered the earliest known work on calculus.

Not only were some of these pages re-used, but several entire pages were painted over in gold-leaf, so that only x-ray fluorescence imaging can now reveal the texts...

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