For seventy years, a prayer book moldered in the closet of a family in France, passed down from one generation to the next. Its mildewed parchment pages were stiff and contorted, tarnished by burn marks and waxy smudges. Behind the text of the prayers, faint Greek letters marched in lines up the page, with an occasional diagram disappearing into the spine.The owners wondered if the strange book might have some value, so they took it to Christie’s Auction House of London. And in 1998, Christie’s auctioned it off—for two million dollars.For this was not just a prayer book. The faint Greek inscriptions and accompanying diagrams were, in fact, the only surviving copies of several works by the great Greek mathematician Archimedes.An intensive research effort over the last nine years has led to the decoding of much of the almost-obliterated Greek text. The results were more revolutionary than anyone had expected.
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