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Scientists hope to read Herculaneum scrolls

PostPosted: October 5th, 2019, 7:44 pm
by toucana

A team of scientists led W. Brent Seales, the head of the University of Kentucky’s Digital Restoration Initiative, believe they are close to to digitally ‘unwrapping’ one of the greatest treasure troves of classical era papyrus scrolls in existence.

The collection of some 1,800 scrolls were discovered in the 18th century inside the ruins of a villa in Herculaneum which was totally destroyed by a violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius in CE 79. The papyri are believed to have formed the library of a luxurious Roman home, thought to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. It is the largest single collection of Roman scrolls ever found in one place.

The papyrus scolls were heavily carbonised and buried by the powerful pyroclastic flows generated by the famous volcanic eruption. It is wholly impossible to unroll them or read them in any conventional way. But ever since 2009, various efforts have been made to recover the contents by using non-invasive micro-CT (computerised tomography) imaging technologies.

All previous attempts to read the scrolls have failed, mainly because of a lack of adequate signal level in the density contrast between the substrate and the lamp-black ink the text was written in.

The latest initiative by the University of Kentucky proposes the use of several new technologies which are described in a peer-reviewed PLOS-ONE journal paper.

One of these is a very high intensity radiation source from the Diamond Light Source synchroton facility based in UK which can take very detailed scans of the damaged scrolls.

Another is the use of a 3D Convolutional Neural Network (3DCNN) that can detect carbon ink in micro-CT data, and process it within a powerful set of machine learning algorithms in order to produce readable images of the hidden text in a photo-realistic rendering.

The University of Kentucky team claim in their paper that they have already demonstrated the viability of their new techniques in test experiments on specially constructed ‘phantom scrolls’, and that they are now ready to apply them to their freshly acquired scans of authentic original papyrus materials.

Re: Scientists hope to read Herculaneum scrolls

PostPosted: October 6th, 2019, 8:51 am
by toucana
The University of Kentucky team were previously able to perform a digital unwrapping of an ancient Hebrew scroll known as the En-Gedi Scroll which was discovered in 1970 and dates to around the fourth century CE. It was found in the burned remains of a Torah Ark in a ruined synagogue at Ein-Gedi in Israel

The video above explains the micro-CT scanning process used in more detail. The scientists were able to read this scroll relatively easily because the ink used contained traces of metallic lead and iron.

The text deciphered consists of 18 complete lines, and 17 partial lines from the first two chapters of Leviticus, making it one of the very oldest portions of the Pentateuch in existence.