Tech Puts America on the Map

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-03-18 Print this article Print

title=The map has produced no secret codes}

High-Tech Conservation

Six weeks before the map was encased, the Library of Congress assembled a team that can only be described as the pros from Dover to undertake a hyperspectral analysis of the map. Members of the team previously produced hyperspectral images of the Archimedes Palimpsest (a medieval parchment manuscript), the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Khaboris Codex, which is the oldest-known copy of the New Testament.

Hyperspectral imaging combines both conventional imaging and spectroscopy, using optical elements, lenses, spatial filters and image sensors to capture 3D image cubes of the object. After years of highly restricted use by the government mapping agencies, hyperspectral imaging is emerging as a valuable tool for historical conservationists and preservationists.

"There has been intense interest in the application of hyperspectral imaging to issues of preservation for items of cultural heritage," states the Library of Congress.

The Archimedes Palimpsest, for example, was written in the 10th Century, but was recycled in the 13th Century by a monk who scraped the text off the parchment and reused it to create a prayer book. Spectral imaging has been successful in retrieving 80 percent of the original text.

No Secrets, But Still a National Treasure

Alas, the imaging of the Waldseemuller map has produced no secret codes or messages that have become the story line of the National Treasure movies. Nevertheless, the imaging has allowed conservationists to study the inks, paper and techniques of 16th century mapmaking.

"We thought we had something but it turned out to be just an impression someone made when applying pressure on the map," said Dr. Fenella G. France, a visiting scientist in the Preservation Research and Testing Division at the Library of Congress.

The contraption used to image the map did, however, end up in the film "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." When researching the forensic techniques that would be used in the film to examine a page from John Wilkes Booth diary, the filmmakers turned to the Library of Congress, which, in turn, led them to the Waldseemuller map hyperspectral imaging team.

Dr. Roger Easton, an imaging scientist from Rochester Institute of Technology, set up a shot for the film using the imaging apparatus used in the Archimedes Palimpsest and later on the Waldseemuller map. The scene made the final cut of the film. 



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