Secrets in 2,000-year-old scorched scrolls of Herculaneum to be revealed with new tech

Ancient Origins, January 2016

An enormous wealth of knowledge locked within hundreds of ancient papyrus scrolls scorched by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, may now be revealed thanks to new technology which may enable the texts to be read.

The new technique, published in the journal Nature Communications, involves a type of X-ray phase-contrast tomography, which enables letters to be highlighted based on their slightly raised height on the papyrus. So far, six scrolls have been analyzed with this method and the resulting text is currently undergoing translation.

Jennifer Sheridan Moss, a papyrologist at Wayne State University and the president of the American Society of Papyrologists, said the new technique holds promise for deciphering other burnt papyri as well. "Most people now believe there is a whole other library under there in that Villa of the Papyri," Moss told Live Science.

In Roman times, most libraries held Greek collections and Latin collections in separate areas. Since all the scrolls found to date are written in Greek, it has been suggested that there may be another entire collection written in Latin.

Archaeologists are continuing to excavate the villa, though at times hindered by noxious gases released from the ground.

"We could easily find more things that are in bad shape like this, and then the technology could be applied to them," Moss said.

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