SCI/TECH — Charred Vesuvius Scroll Deciphered At Last Thanks To New Imaging Tech

It wasn’t until recently that the scrolls held any significant meaning in the annals of history. While around 800 of the scrolls had been fully or partially unrolled (very gingerly of course), the remaining had either proven too delicate to unfurl or too carbonized to read at all, leaving researchers in a quandary. So when the opportunity to utilize special X-ray phase-contrast tomography came along, Italian researcher Vito Mocella, a physicist from the National Research Council’s Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (CNR-IMM) in Naples, leapt at the chance to finally decipher the fragile wording inside the unopened scrolls.

The biggest hurdle, he says? The ink. Because of the intense heat of a pyroclastic flow (an extremely fast-moving current of hot gas and rock that is ejected down the mountainsides of particularly violent volcanic eruptions) the scrolls, originally uncovered in the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, a huge seafront estate most likely owned by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, had carbonized to the point that researchers were unable to differentiate the papyrus from the charcoal-based ink used to write on them.



Image: University of Kentucky