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Home » Revealing The Lost Codex of Archimedes: William Noel (Transcript)

Revealing The Lost Codex of Archimedes: William Noel (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of William Noel’s talk titled “Revealing The Lost Codex of Archimedes” at TED conference.

Ancient books curator William Noel’s talk in this TED talk unfolds the captivating story of how medieval manuscripts, including the works of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, were rediscovered. Noel details the journey of Codex C, a manuscript that contained previously unknown texts by Archimedes, hidden within the pages of a prayer book. This prayer book, crafted from recycled parchment, concealed Archimedes’ works for over 700 years until its discovery in 1906.

Through innovative imaging techniques, including multispectral imaging and X-ray fluorescence, Noel and his team were able to reveal texts obscured for centuries. He emphasizes the importance of making such historical treasures accessible to the public by digitizing and sharing them under a Creative Commons license. Noel’s work not only sheds light on Archimedes’ lost writings but also champions the democratization of knowledge and the preservation of cultural heritage.

Listen to the audio version here:


The great texts of the ancient world don’t survive to us in their original form. They survive because medieval scribes copied them and copied them and copied them. And so it is with Archimedes, the great Greek mathematician. Everything we know about Archimedes as a mathematician we know about because of just three books, and they’re called A, B, and C.

The Journey of Codex C

A was lost by an Italian humanist in 1564. B was last heard of in the Pope’s Library about a hundred miles north of Rome in Viterbo in 1311. Now Codex C was only discovered in 1906, and it landed on my desk in Baltimore on the 19th of January, 1999. And this is Codex C here.

Now Codex C is actually buried in this book. It’s buried treasure. Because this book is actually a prayer book. It was finished by a guy called Johannes Myrones on the 14th of April, 1229. And to make his prayer book, he used parchment. But he didn’t use new parchment, he used parchment recycled from earlier manuscripts, and there were seven of them. And Archimedes’ Codex C was just one of those seven. He took apart the Archimedes manuscript and the other seven manuscripts.

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