I Found It at the JCB



Discoveries in a Ptolemy Manuscript.
Wilczek-Brown Codex, mid-fifteenth century, under the Lazarus camera and lights.
Original in the John Carter Brown Library.


< click on image for enlargement >

The Rising of the Wilczek-Brown Codex

by Leslie Tobias Olsen

Our last I Found It at the JCB article featured Chet Van Duzer writing about an interesting discovery he made while looking at the Wilczek-Brown codex (a collection of manuscript maps from ca. 1450). As a result of his interest in the map and his knowledge about a team which uses multi-spectral imaging to uncover erased or over-written text, we invited the Lazarus Team to the John Carter Brown Library. The team, consisting of Gregory Heyworth, director of the project and a professor of English at the University of Mississippi; Roger Easton, professor of imaging science at Rochester Institute of Technology; Bill Christens-Berry, chief executive and technical officer of Equipoise Imaging LLC, and Michael Phelps, executive director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, arrived with their equipment on Wednesday, August 10, 2011.

We all looked forward to seeing what the Lazarus team could tell us about our codex. And the Lazarus team—who are committed to their role as educators and committed to transporting imaging technology to artifacts—were unfailingly patient and instructive. They captured images not only the Wilczek-Brown codex, but also other JCB treasures, plus assorted manuscripts, prints, journals, and paintings from sister Rhode Island institutions.

The aim of the Lazarus team is to develop an easily portable system to capture images combining the 12 different wavelength shots (in black and white), through a triple-layering process to achieve greater legibility— the only portable multi-spectral imaging system in operation. The team also gave a series of well-attended talks on projects they have worked on—most notably the restoration of the Archimedes Palimpsest (a 10th-century manuscript containing the oldest copies of seven of the Greek mathematician's treatises), the restoration of manuscripts at Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai (one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world and the one of the oldest continually operating libraries in the world. It preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library), and the restoration of a long 14th century Middle French poem (thought until recently to have been too badly damaged during the bombing of Dresden to be recovered) called "Les Esches d'Amour" [The Chess of Love].

Every day was long when they were here and the team tackled numerous technological difficulties—the principal breakdown was of a shutter component which was shipped overnight from California and arrived on Friday morning (although its defect was only discovered on Thursday afternoon) to save the day. In the end, the team packed up at 6 PM on Saturday night, after a long exhausting and exhaustive series of four days.

And we can’t even report on what the Lazarus team found at the JCB. The most time-intensive part of this system is in the processing of the images to bring out the hidden wavelengths and erased images. That is still to come.

Leslie Tobias Olsen is on the staff of the John Carter Brown Library.



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