Aug 11, 2008

Getting Hard For Ancient Libraries

The unique library of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, buried beneath lava by Vesuvius's eruption in AD79, is slowly revealing its long-held secrets (from The Australian)

When Vesuvius erupted it buried two thriving port cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum. There were several very rich people living there, and their lavish mansions were preserved.
One of these mansions contained a large papyrus scroll library, which is being excavated. Check out the following excerpt from the above-linked story.

The excavators also found what they took to be chunks of coal deep inside the villa, and set them alight to illuminate their passage underground. Only when they noticed how many torches had solidified around an umbilicus -- a core of wood or bone to which the roll was attached -- did the true nature of the find become apparent. Here was a trove of ancient texts, carbonised by the heat surge of the eruption. About 1800 were eventually retrieved.

Scientists today are using the latest in advanced technology to actually READ some of these scrolls! They use multi-spectral imaging technology and are creating a variant on the CT Scan technology used to see inside people, to read the scrolls without unrolling them. Fucking amazing.

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