Ancient Scrolls of Philodemus, Carbonized by Vesuvius, Now Readable

Using a technique known as x-ray phase-contrast tomography (XPCT), a research team in Italy has figured out a way to read the text of ancient rolled-up scrolls that had been blackened, warped, and embrittled in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The scrolls were found in 1752 during excavations in Pompeii. Most of the approximately 1,800 (!) scrolls found so far have been impossible to read or even unroll without destroying. According to an article at Smithsonian Magazine, “most of the scrolls that have been unwrapped so far are Epicurean philosophical texts written by Philodemus—prose and poetry that had been lost to modern scholars until the library was found… Modern scholars debate whether the scrolls were part of Philodemus’ personal collection dating to his time period, or whether they were mostly copies made in the first century A.D.” Further details about the technique are also described at the website of the European Synchotron, the particle collider that was needed “to produce the high-energy beam of x-rays needed for the scans,” and at Nature Communications.

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