October 31, 2012 Father Justin Sinaites and Michael Toth to Discuss Hyperspectral Imaging of Ancient Texts

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Fenella France (202) 707-5525

Father Justin Sinaites, the librarian at St. Catherine’s Monastery, and Michael B. Toth, the program manager of the Sinai Palimpsest Project, will discuss how advanced hyperspectral imaging is revealing ancient texts in the library at St. Catherine’s, a remote Greek Orthodox monastery in Egypt’s Sinai desert.

The lecture at the Library of Congress will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 19, in the Mumford Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The lecture, sponsored by the Library’s Preservation Directorate, is free and open to the public. Tickets are not needed. For those not able to attend, a limited number of live-webcast “seats” are available. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/preservation/outreach/tops/ancient_text/ancient_text.htm.

St. Catherine’s Monastery has one of the world’s most important collections of ancient manuscripts, the earliest dating from the fourth century. Because writing materials were sometimes scarce, the library contains many palimpsests—manuscripts where the original text was erased, and the valuable parchment used a second time. The faint original texts can often be recovered through the use of hyperspectral imaging.

During the lecture, Father Justin will discuss some of the first scholarly results gleaned from the palimpsest undertexts.

Scientists, scholars and technical experts are working in close collaboration with the archbishop and monks to spectrally image manuscripts from the monastery’s rich collection of palimpsests. The imaging system is similar to the one used by the Library of Congress for the past five years to support preservation and curatorial studies of America’s top treasures, such as the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address drafts and other manuscripts.

The monastery’s library contains some 3,300 manuscripts, 8,000 early printed books and an important archive containing letters, account books, charters and other documents. In 1950, the Library of Congress supported microfilming of 1,687 manuscripts and 1,742 Ottoman scrolls in the monastery’s library. The microfilm reels are available in the Library of Congress collections.

Father Justin was born in El Paso, Texas, and grew up in a Baptist family. While at the University of Texas, he developed a passion for Byzantine history. He joined the Greek Orthodox Church, and entered the monastery in Brookline, Mass., in 1974. After he was ordained, Father Justin became a monk in St. Catherine’s Monastery in 1996.

Toth, president of R. B. Toth Associates, leads and manages teams of specialists in global digitization and digital-imaging studies of parchment and paper manuscripts and other objects, including the Archimedes and Galen Syriac Palimpsests. More information is available at www.rbtoth.com External.

The Preservation Directorate at the Library of Congress is responsible for ensuring long-term access to the intellectual content of the collections in their original or reformatted form, and has developed a framework for research to advance the care of historic manuscripts and other materials.

The Library’s Preservation Research and Testing Division (PRTD), part of the Preservation Directorate, analyzes and assesses factors that can endanger collections. This effort includes research in preservation of traditional materials and in development of non-invasive techniques for analysis and identification of materials, including parchment, paper and papyrus. PRTD is currently researching the impact of environmental conditions that can impact the Library’s collections, including light, relative humidity, pollutants and particulates, and temperature. These have direct implications for the preservation and study of parchment and paper in unusual environments, like that found in desert climates.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 151.8 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.


PR 12-201
ISSN 0731-3527