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Infrared Imaging Reveals Hidden Words on Ancient Scroll

Monday, October 7, 2019

Herculaneum Scroll ScanningNAPLES, ITALY—According to a Science Magazine report, short-wave infrared hyperspectral imaging has allowed a team of researchers led by classicist Graziano Ranocchia of the National Research Council in Rome to decipher text written on the reverse side of a charred papyrus scroll that had been unrolled and glued down on paperboard sometime after it was recovered in the eighteenth century from the ruins of Herculaneum. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered in ash during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The scroll contains a work about Greece's great thinkers known as the History of the Academy, which was copied on the papyrus several decades before the eruption of the volcano by the philosopher Philodemus or one of his scribes. Ranocchia said that in all, the team members were able to add 150 words to the 8,000 known words of Philodemus’ manuscript, and to correct translations of some words that had been misread. The technique could help researchers take a fresh look at the nearly 2,000 papyri recovered from Herculaneum. To read about methods for deciphering text within unrolled papyri, go to "The Charred Scrolls of Herculaneum."

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