Deciphering David Livingstone's diary

David Livingstone's fragile 140-year-old diary is the subject of a major project which will decipher the Scottish explorer's faded handwriting.

During his journeys in Africa in 1870-1871, Livingstone improvised when he ran out of paper and ink.

He tore pages out of books and old newspapers, writing around the margins and crosswise over the text. For ink, he used pigment taken from the seeds of a local berry. His writing on these pages has been virtually unreadable for many decades.

Recovering unique observations

Scientists are now recovering Livingstone's unique observations using a ground-breaking multi-spectral imaging technique to illuminate the pages and separate the layers of texts.

At the end of the project, the missionary's diary will be available in unabridged form for the first time, on the Livingstone online website.

Part of the diary is preserved by the National Trust for Scotland at the David Livingstone Centre. Further portions and additional letters are held at the National Library of Scotland - the largest repository of Livingstone-related documents in the world.

The 18-month Livingstone diary project was launched at NLS by a transatlantic team of researchers from University of London's Birkbeck College and spectral imaging scientists from the USA. The team has already produced a demonstration edition of a Livingstone letter from 1871.

8 July 2010

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