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The palimpsest is a 1,000-year-old parchment made of goatskin containing Archimedes' work as laboriously copied down by a 10th century scribe. Two centuries later, with parchment harder to come by, the ink was erased with a weak acid (like lemon juice) and scraped off with a pumice stone, and the parchment was written on again to make a prayer book.
One of the most intractable problems was seeing the original ink on four pages that had been painted over with Byzantine religious images, which turned out to be 20th century forgeries intended to increase the value of the prayer book.
Previously hidden writings of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes are being uncovered with powerful X-ray beams nearly 800 years after a Christian monk scrubbed off the text and wrote over it with prayers.
"We are gaining new insights into one of the founding fathers of western science," said William Noel, curator of manuscripts at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum, which organized the effort.
Over the past eight years, researchers have used ultraviolet and infrared filters, as well as digital cameras and processing techniques, to reveal most of the buried text, but some pages were still unreadable.
"We will never recover all of it," Noel said. "We are just getting as much as we can, and we are going to the ends of the earth to get it."