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Saturday November 21, 2020

Students discover a hidden message in a 15th century manuscript

A group of students at Rochester Institute of Technology unveiled a text hidden behind a 15th-century manuscript using an imaging system they developed on their own.
The manuscript was part of the college’s art collection, but after using ultraviolet imaging, it was revealed that it was composed of multiple layers, and students were asked to build a multispectral UV imaging system to read hidden text in documents.

Students were able to borrow many manuscripts from the Curry collection, and when placed under ultraviolet light, a dark French manuscript appeared beneath the visible text.

Making the manuscript was expensive, so papers were sometimes wiped and reused for writing again. The scanned text is invisible to the naked eye, but using other frequencies of the light spectrum can illuminate the initial writing and remove the visible text.

“It was amazing because this document has been in the Curry collection for nearly a decade and no one noticed it,” said Zoe Lalena, a second year photography science student who worked on the project.

“And because she is also from the Otto Ege collection of 30 other known pages of this book, it is really surprising that the other 29 pages that we know where she is can contain similar secrets,” Zoe added.

The Otto Ege Collection is a series of manuscripts compiled by Otto F. Ege which is a collection of damaged or incomplete medieval manuscripts that have been sold or distributed to libraries and private collections throughout North America, including the Curry Collection.

The students placed the manuscript under the ultraviolet imaging system and were able to capture the hidden writing with a camera that was transferred to a computer to make it more readable. It will be examined by historians who will study the text and determine its meaning.

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“The discovery is exciting because similar papers have been studied extensively by scientists across the country, but have never been tested with ultraviolet light or full-scale imaging,” said Stephen Galbraith, curator of Cary Graphic Arts.

“The students provided very important information about at least two of our manuscript papers here in the group, and they discovered two texts that we did not know were in the group, and now we have to understand the content of those texts,” he added.

The students have been selected to share their findings at the 2021 International Conference on Medieval Studies, and are planning to present the project at the Creativity and Innovation Festival next year, according to the British Daily Mail.

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