The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Archimedes palimpsest

Archimedes palimpsest was thought to be lost, but it was actually recovered 1000 years later! A palimpsest is defined as “a manuscript written on parchment that has another text written over it, leaving two (or more) layers of visible writing.” (NOVA, 2003).

Archimedes was considered the greatest mathematician in Greek history. His priceless (actually valued at approximately 2 million dollars at auction) palimpsest was traced by NOVA  (2003) and makes for an interesting story related to ancient text and the development of writing technologies. Here is an excerpt:

“circa 1000
A scribe working in Constantinople handwrites a copy of the Archimedes treatises, including their accompanying diagrams and calculations, onto parchment, which is assembled into a book.

circa 1200
A Christian monk handwrites prayers in Greek over the Archimedes text, turning the old mathematical text into a new prayer book. The book is now a palimpsest, a manuscript with a layer of text written over an earlier scraped- or washed-off text”. (NOVA, 2003)

I remembered that Richard Clement  (1997) wrote about the practice of scraping off still-wet ink in Medieval and Renaissance Book Production: Manuscript Books. It is interesting to see an actual example of a 1000 year old text that survived this process! The link has some great images and additional links you may be interested in.

By the way, I found this site by using the Librarian’s Internet Index. I hope it helps some classmates with their research. I also tried to hyperlink in this post, but my links led to a 404 Error message. Ah well, the old fashioned digital literacy method of “cut and paste into your browser ” will work for the links. I posted them below. Erin


Clement, R. (1997). Medieval and renaissance book production: Manuscript books. Available online 16, October, 2009, from

Librarian’s internet index. (2009). Available online 16, October, 2009, from

NOVA. (2003). Infinite secrets: The Archimede’s palimpsest. Available online 15, October, 2009 from


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