University of Kentucky scientists will attempt to 'unroll' a scroll turned into charcoal by the famous Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Herculaneum and Vesuvius:
On Aug. 24, 79 A.D., Italy's Mount Vesuvius exploded, burying the Roman towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii under tons of super-heated ash, rock and debris in one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history.
Thousands died. But somehow, hundreds of papyrus scrolls survived — sort of — in a villa at Herculaneum thought to have been owned at one time by Julius Caesar's father-in-law.
The scrolls contained ancient philosophical and learned writings. But they were so badly damaged — literally turned to carbon by the volcanic heat — that they crumbled when scholars first tried to open them centuries later.
The remaining scrolls, stored away in Italy and France, haven't been read — or even unrolled — since 79 AD.
Now, a computer scientist from the University of Kentucky hopes that modern digital technology will allow him to peer inside two of the fragile scrolls — without physically opening them — and unlock secrets they have held for almost 2,000 years.
Brent Seales, the Gill professor of engineering in UK's computer science department, will use an X-Ray CT scanning system to collect interior images of the scrolls' rolled-up pages. Then, he and his colleagues hope to digitally "unroll" the scrolls on a computer screen so scholars can read them.
"It will be a challenge because today these things look more like charcoal briquets than scrolls," Seales said last week. "But we're using a non-invasive scanning system, based on medical technology, that lets you slice through an object and develop a three-dimensional data set without having to open it, just as you would do a CT scan on a human body."
This is fascinating--and extremely important--stuff. It's mind-boggling to imagine what might be in those scrolls, surely some contain writings lost to history since Biblical times. Let's hope the attempt is successful.