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May 22, 2018

How gel and X-rays are helping us fix art and read thousand-year-old manuscripts

<em>Detail from “Ascesa Dei Beati,” part of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s Sistine Chapel. On the right is a 16th century drawing reproducing the same detail. An inscription “di mano di Michelangelo” (from Michelangelo’s hand), on the bottom-left side of the drawing, was hidden by a tape and revealed after restoration.</em>

If you use tape to hang up a drawing, it’s tricky to later get that tape off without ruining the image. When the drawing in question is centuries old, the stakes are far higher. But researchers have figured out how to fix this problem, and their tape-removal method has already revealed secrets from a 16th century drawing. This innovation is just one technological advance that’s helping us learn about the past, from confirming a cause of death to reading thousand-year-old manuscripts.

To solve the tape issue, scientists at the University of Florence developed a clear, rubbery gel that can be cut to the exact size needed. Just stick it on the tape, and gently peel both the gel and the tape off. (They explained the process in a paper...

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