After 3 Centuries, Scientists Read Burnt Magna Carta

Copies of document to be brought together for first time ever
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 11, 2014 2:09 PM CDT
After 3 Centuries, Scientists Read Burnt Magna Carta
A copy of the Magna Carta on display in Massachusetts.   (AP Photo / The Berkshire Eagle, Ben Garver)

Almost three centuries ago, one of the world's most important documents was burnt in a fire. That copy of the Magna Carta was unreadable after the 1731 blaze—until now. Scientists have turned to special imaging techniques to read one of the four existing copies of the 1215 document limiting the English king's power, LiveScience reports. Multispectral imaging involves creating multiple pictures of the document using light that ranges from ultraviolet to infrared. "It’s been unable to be read with the naked eye for 200-plus years,” says an expert. "We couldn’t have done this even three or four years ago."

Each of the four copies of the document is "slightly different," he notes: "It’s what you would expect if something was copied out by hand" as the Magna Carta was. With the 800th anniversary of the document coming next year, researchers are preparing to bring all four copies together for the first time ever, the Guardian reports; normally, the copies are kept separately across England. They'll be on display in the British Library, though just 1,215 lucky people, picked via lottery, will get to see them during their appearance on Feb. 3, 2015. Perhaps David Cameron should join them after faltering on David Letterman's UK quiz. (More Magna Carta stories.)

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