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Science

Interior of Burnt Herculaneum Scroll Read For First Time 66

New submitter Solandri writes: When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, it destroyed a library of classical works in Herculaneum. The papyrus scrolls weren't incinerated, but were instead carbonized by the hot gases. The resulting black carbon cylinders have mostly withstood attempts to read their contents since their discovery. Earlier attempts to unfurl the scrolls yielded some readable material, but were judged too destructive. Researchers decided to wait for newer technology to be invented that could read the scrolls without unrolling them.

Now, a team led by Dr. Vito Mocella from the National Research Council's Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (CNR-IMM) in Naples, Italy has managed to read individual letters inside one of the scrolls. Using a form of x-ray phase contrast tomography (abstract), they were able to ascertain the height difference (about 0.1mm) between the ink of the letters and the papyrus fibers which they sat upon. Due to the fibrous nature of the papyrus and the carbon-based ink, regular spectral and chemical analysis had thus far been unable to distinguish the ink from the paper. Further complicating the work, the scrolls are not in neat cylinders, but squashed and ruffled as the hot gases vaporized water in the papyrus and distorted the paper.
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Interior of Burnt Herculaneum Scroll Read For First Time

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