Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Web Secret #230: the Archimedes Palimpsest

It was October 29th, 1998, when a very special, very old book was sold to an anonymous collector for $2,000,000 at Christie's auction house in New York.

The Archimedes Palimpsest, as this book is called, has true claims to greatness: it is the earliest surviving Archimedes manuscript.

No, this is not a new Nicholas Cage thriller. Instead, the Palimpsest lies at the heart of a 21st century high school reunion of sorts. Reunions - those awkward affairs where alums take comfort in the cash bar, as they assess whether they are more or less successful, attractive and affluent than their classmates...

Anyway, a long time ago, when I was in high school, one of my friends stated, "when I grow up, I am going to be a paper conservator." I remember thinking I had only the vaguest idea what she was talking about.

Fast forward a number of years. My class secretary creates a Facebook group for us. And thus I discover that my classmate Abigail Quandt has now become one of the world's foremost conservators of rare books and manuscripts. (She modestly posted that she was about to visit the museum where the Palimpsest is currently being exhibited.)

You see, the anonymous collector had entrusted her with the task of restoring the Palimpsest. It took her 12 years. You can watch a video about her work here. In fact, there is an entire website devoted to the book.

How often do people accomplish exactly what they set out to do?

How often do we thank Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the Internet?

How often do we have the opportunity to see a treasure like the Palimpsest from an up close and personal perspective?

We live in an age of miracles.

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