The Archimedes Palimpsest is a manuscript that has been preserved for approximately 1,000 years. Among its pages are some of the few known sources of treatises from the Greek mathematician Archimedes. The writing has been overwritten with prayer text, called the Euchologion, and portions of the faded Archimedes text are difficult to read. This research investigates methods to detect the presence of ink in the Archimedes Palimpsest using state-of-the-art image processing techniques applied to data from X-ray fluorescence (XRF) scans.

In an effort to extract more legible text, various methods of imaging have been applied to the Archimedes manuscript. Recent X-ray fluorescence images of the palimpsest suggest the possibility of detecting individual text layers and isolating them from each other. This is encouraging, since many of the pages have also been partially masked by gold-leafed, Byzantine-style artwork, making the Archimedes writing difficult to see with the human eye.

The scans measure the X radiation emitted by atoms on the pages that have been excited by other higher energy X rays incident to the parchment. This caused certain elements within the manuscript, such as the iron in the ink, to fluoresce at energies that are specific to the particular material. A total of 2,000 different energy levels, or bands, were recorded. To evaluate the data contained in this large number of bands, a single data set was created that included all bands, referred to as a "datacube," which shows the transition of each pixel through the spectrum. Special image processing tools, developed for use in the field of remote sensing to process aerial and satellite data, can be used to detect certain patterns within the datacube. Each tool is then used to segregate the noise from the relevant data in the datacube. The datacube for this thesis research was created from a small portion of one page of the Archimedes Palimpsest, and may inherently be subject to certain noise limitations.

This study focuses on two main objectives:

  • Evaluation of X-ray fluorescence data to determine which energy levels contain useful information about the layers of text.
  • Creation of a pseudocolored composite RGB image of a portion of enhanced Archimedes text, similar to previous pseudocolored MSI images.

Results from this study show that only a few regions within the datacube contain information relevant to the layers of text. Certain algorithms, such as principal component analysis and minimum noise fraction, showed distinct information about trace elements fluorescing in the ink and parchment. Meaningful data near the spectral line of each trace element was detected after disbanding the datacube into smaller regions. Enough information was obtained as a result to create colorized RGB composite images that enhance the contrast of the Archimedes writing relative to the overwritten text.

It is hoped that this research can improve the method for identifying useful bands of information within datacubes. The research may also have created a repeatable method for detecting useful bands of information in similar datacubes. State-of-the-art multispectral imaging applications were specifically applied to detect, extract, and enhance previously illegible writings that are of interest to scholars and museums in particular.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Archimedes--Manuscripts--Data processing; Image processing--Digital techniques; X-ray spectroscopy; Palimpsests--Data processing; Image analysis

Publication Date


Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

School of Print Media (CIAS)


Franziska Frey

Advisor/Committee Member

Roger Easton Jr.


"All images of the Archimedes Palimpsest, unless otherwise noted, including those produced for this research project, are copyrighted intellectual property of the owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest. Images were produced by the Rochester Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University and are used with permission. All images may not be reproduced for any purpose in whole or in part without written permission. All other images used in conjunction with this thesis research are used with permission."

Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at TA1637 .H37 2006


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