Western scientists often forget their debt to medieval Islamic scholars, who guarded the scientific knowledge of ancient Greece long before the European Renaissance reclaimed it. One of the central reasons for this historic 'blind spot' is a lack of skill in the relevant languages — Arabic, Babylonian, Greek, Latin and Persian.
In this article in Nature, Alison Abbott reveals how a Turkish academic, Fuat Sezgin, is helping to redress this. The 80-year old master of several ancient languages has displayed 800 instruments — from astrolabes and scalpels to globes and water clocks — in the University of Frankfurt's Institute for the History of Arabic-Islamic Science. All were built from descriptions in ancient texts of the Arab world.
The collection is little known, but that may be set to change. There is a virtual museum in German on the Internet, and early in 2006 the first major exhibition of the collection is planned for the Arab World Institute in Paris, France.
Reference: Nature 432, 794 (2004)