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Math Trek

Ancient Infinities

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5:53pm, November 18, 2002

An ancient manuscript long hidden from public view has provided significant, new insights into the way Archimedes (287–212 B.C.) did his mathematical work more than 2,000 years ago.

The manuscript, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, is the only source of Archimedes' treatise on the "Method of Mechanical Theorems." As the oldest surviving Archimedes manuscript, it's the closest we can get to the mathematician himself, says science historian and classics professor Reviel Netz of Stanford University, who has been studying the relic.

Dating from the 10 century, the Archimedes text survives as writing on parchment that 2 centuries later was cut apart, roughly scraped, and overwritten with a description of a church ritual. The document was first rediscovered in Constantinople in 1906 by the Danish scholar J.L. Heiberg. Aided only by a magnifying glass, however, he could not read every word of the text. The manuscript vanished from view in the 19

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