The Archimedes Palimpsest

the Digital Archimedes Palimpsest

At 2pm on October 29th, 2008, ten years after the Archimedes Palimpsest was purchased by the present owner, the core data generated by the project to conserve, image and study the manuscript, was released on the web. This is the electronic product that Reviel Netz looked forward to, several years ago. Conceptually speaking, what we wanted to create then was a digital version of the Archimedes Palimpsest – and one that revealed the unique ancient texts in the manuscript that were scraped off and overwritten with a prayer book by Johannes Myronas in 1229AD. As program manager Mike Toth explains, in order to do this we had to break new ground.

The digital version that we have created has some advantages over the manuscript. It is freely available on desktops around the world, it is far easier to read the under texts in some of these images than it is in the manuscript itself, and in case you have difficulty we have provided authoritative transcriptions of the Archimedes texts that are spatially mapped onto the images. It has some disadvantages compared to the manuscript. At least for most humanists, the presentation of the data is less self-evident that the presentation of data in a book. Users of this data set are strongly urged to read the accompanying documentation carefully. We have tried hard to be as clear as we can.

The primary architect of the documents, and the metadata guy on this project is Doug Emery. One of our goals in the presentation of the data has been to ensure its long-term survival. We have, as far as possible, conformed to best practices, adhered to existing standards, and avoided using proprietary software. We have documented these standards in the dataset. Here Emery explains his role in the project, and his goal for the documentation for the material.

It is important to make clear what this digital product is not. It does not come with a GUI (Graphic User Interface), and this means that it is unwieldy to use. Our thinking behind this is that GUI’s come and go, and our mission at this stage in the project is to provide a permanent document. The digital product is therefore not so much a publication as an archive. We do however, invite and encourage any interested parties to apply whatever software they like to create further images based on our data set, further text based on our dataset, or graphic user interfaces through which the data that we have presented may be more easily managed. This data is released for use under a Creative Commons license, with attribution. You can use it for your own purposes; you just have to say where you got it from and the fact that you are using it under license. Please, just take it, courtesy of the private owner whose generosity is only exceeded by his desire to remain anonymous.

If you have any questions or comments concerning the data set, please contact William Noel, at