The 13th Floor

Hidden Text in This Ancient Manuscript Can Only Be Read by X-Rays

On the surface it appears to be a religious book written in the 11th century, but researchers have long suspected that writings on a completely different subject are hiding beneath the visible text… and now, thanks to a lengthy and complex scanning procedure, experts finally have proof.

Newsweek recently reported on a research project underway at the U.S. Department of Energy lab in California, where a particle accelerator known as the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) has been used to scan the pages with a powerful x-ray cluster, enabling them to see through the visible letters on the pages and reveal much older text beneath.

Image Credit: iStock/benedek

The researchers were aware of the historic practice of erasing old text from books — which were often printed on parchment made from animal skins — in order to save valuable materials. It’s basically the ancient equivalent of recording over a videotaped TV show when you don’t have another tape handy (although that may also seem like ancient history by now). Although many different attempts have been made using different wavelengths, the SSRL has delivered results described by historians as “mind-blowing,” with many previously-unseen passages now visible.

The manuscript revealed by the SSRL scans (which take up to 10 hours per page to complete) seems to be a volume on medical practices written by a famed Greek physician in the sixth century — 500 years earlier than the visible text.

Image Credit: The Lancet/Wikimedia Commons

The scanned pages, which are only a fraction of the complete volume, are now being attributed to Galen of Pergamum, whose theories about the connection between mind and body were highly influential in the development of modern medicine and therapy.

Historian Peter Pormann of the University of Manchester told Newsweek Galen is “the most important and most influential physician arguably of all time,” and that his theories are “basically our history… this is how medicine developed.”