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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-03-13 00:05:01
  • Article ID: 690988

Global Team Uncovers Ancient Medical Texts Using X-Ray Imaging at SLAC

Members of the media are invited to watch as researchers work to reveal hidden medical texts by the Greek doctor Galen that were scraped off and overwritten with a religious text 1,000 years ago.

  • Credit: Farrin Abbott/SLAC

    An international, multidisciplinary team is using X-rays from SLAC to reveal the hidden text of a medical manuscript by the ancient Greek doctor Galen that was written on parchment in the 6th century and scraped off and overwritten with religious text in the 11th century.

  • Credit: Mike Toth/R.B. Toth Associates

    An international, multidisciplinary team is using X-rays from SLAC to reveal the hidden text of a medical manuscript by the ancient Greek doctor Galen that was written on parchment in the 6th century and scraped off and overwritten with religious text in the 11th century.

Menlo Park, Calif. —  An international, multidisciplinary team is using X-rays to reveal the hidden text of a medical manuscript by the ancient Greek doctor Galen that was written on parchment in the 6th century and scraped off and overwritten with religious text in the 11th century. The X-ray study is now underway at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Media are invited to visit the facility to observe the team and its work during the week of March 12.

What: The manuscript is a palimpsest, a parchment ­document that was reused centuries ago by scraping off the original text and writing new text on top of it. The original words are from a medical text by Galen; they were overwritten with a religious text with psalms for the days of the week, both in ancient Syriac. The palimpsest first turned up in Germany in the early 1900s, and research indicates it was originally from St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. For nearly a decade, a multidisciplinary team of technical experts, scientists and scholars have used advanced multispectral imaging and digital processing techniques to study Galen’s original text. So far they have not been able to reveal all of the hidden text, which was thoroughly scrubbed off in some sections.

At SSRL, each page is being scanned and converted to high-resolution TIFF and jpeg files that will be posted online for study by scholars. This takes about 10 hours for each of the 26 pages. The images show minute variations in the ink used to write characters and words on the page. The ink in the newer religious text and the residual ink from the scraped off, hidden text respond to the X-ray beam in slightly different ways, and this allows scientists to tell them apart. This technique builds upon a decade of work on the Archimedes and Galen palimpsests and other manuscripts.

 Who: An SSRL team led by SLAC distinguished staff scientist Uwe Bergmann, in collaboration with Stanford University Libraries and R.B. Toth Associates, will use SSRL’s high-powered X-ray beams to provide scholars around the globe with images of the currently unseen Galen undertext. These will be integrated with the advanced multispectral images already taken of the Syriac Galen palimpsest. The manuscript pages were prepared for X-ray imaging by the Stanford University Libraries Preservation Department

Where: SSRL produces extremely bright X-ray light for probing our world at the atomic and molecular level. More than 1,600 scientists from all over the world use it each year for research that benefits many sectors of the American economy. Their work spurs advances in medicine, energy production, environmental cleanup, nanotechnology and new materials. The beamline used for this research was also used to image the Archimedes palimpsest in 2006, as well as fossils and archeological artifacts.

When: X-ray imaging will take place throughout the week of March 12. Media are invited to observe the research. For media unable to visit, phone interviews with researchers can be arranged. Photos are available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/slaclab/albums/72157664611154637. Video is available at https://vimeo.com/259636974 (password is SSRL).

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. To learn more, please visit www.slac.stanford.edu.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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