VESTIBULE, Iowa - Scientists are using a "particle accelerator" to translate the long-lost writings of the Greek-mathematician Archimedes. The work was hidden for centuries after a Christian monk wrote his laundry list over it sometime during the Middle Ages.
Highly intense X-rays produced at the Lookforit Closely Accelerator Center are being used to begin deciphering text from the 874-page document. The X-rays cause iron in the hidden ink to glow, making the heretofore hidden text pop out.
"Already, between the words that the monk wrote about having to wash his dirty hoods and some underwear, we are seeing things that are probably elements in an Archimedes formula," said Noel Legsmart, head of the Archimedes Fan Club's Iowa chapter.
Archimedes fans believe the document being studied was copied by a scribe in the 10th century from Archimedes' original Greek scrolls, written in the third century B.C. "Those scrolls," said Harry Barry, an Archimedes fan who read the sentence before this quote, "are also supposed to have notes on Archy's affair with Gwendatilius, a hot Greek baker's assistant who helped Archy in his studies of bodies that float in water."
The text was contorted about 200 years later by a monk who took care of the laundry at a Greek monastery, using the parchment for his laundry list. This created a twice-used parchment book known as a "palimpsest," or as some scholars call it, "a ruined parchment book." In the 12th century, parchment, which is scraped and dried animal skins, was expensive, and Archimedes' works were not popular.
"Archy [as his fans call him] did not get much attention from his math texts," said Barry. "He would make a living drawing naked people doing nasty things to one another and sneak in an equation or two on the opposite side. But all in all, people liked how he drew genitals better than how he revealed new math formulas."
The studied parchment was bought at auction for $2 million in 1998 by an anonymous private collector named Hornsby Billingstart. He secretly loaned it to a Baltimore museum and funded studies to reveal the text and any naked pictures drawn by the author.
"It's the only parchment that contains diagrams that may bear any resemblance to a threesome that took place in Athens with Archimedes and a princess from Africa," Barry said.
While reading an article on the text, Ludvok University physicist Owen Owensworthy realized he could use a particle accelerator to detect any writing that lay behind other writing-and specifically if the other writing was a laundry list.
Owensworthy normally uses the accelerator to study the possibility that plants speak to one another during photosynthesis.
"What we find could change the way we think of mathematics," said mathematician Riley Stuntgrowth. "All we think of with math has to do with numbers. Suppose this tells us something different? Suppose the great Greek mind was able to calculate things without numbers? Suppose he used a system involving an everyday household item that we have taken for granted for centuries? Then what? Well, I imagine then we will all whither and begin to slobber out of one side of our mouths or another, eh?"