Fascinating use of technology - the Herculaneum scrolls

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From The Smithsonian:

Buried by the Ash of Vesuvius, These Scrolls Are Being Read for the First Time in Millennia
It’s July 12, 2017, and Jens Dopke walks into a windowless room in Oxfordshire, England, all of his attention trained on a small, white frame that he carries with both hands. The space, which looks like a futuristic engine room, is crowded with sleek metal tables, switches and platforms topped with tubes and boxes. A tangle of pipes and wires covers the walls and floor like vines.

In the middle of the room, Dopke, a physicist, eases the frame into a holder mounted on a metal turntable, a red laser playing on the back of his hand. Then he uses his cellphone to call his colleague Michael Drakopoulos, who is sitting in a control room a few yards away. “Give it another half a millimeter,” Dopke says. Working together, they adjust the turntable so that the laser aligns perfectly with a dark, charred speck at the center of the frame.

The author takes some time setting up the story - here is a bit more:

The facility, called Diamond Light Source, is one of the most powerful and sophisticated X-ray facilities in the world, used to probe everything from viruses to jet engines. On this summer afternoon, though, its epic beam will focus on a tiny crumb of papyrus that has already survived one of the most destructive forces on the planet—and 2,000 years of history. It comes from a scroll found in Herculaneum, an ancient Roman resort on the Bay of Naples, Italy, that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. In the 18th century, workmen employed by King Charles III of Spain, then in charge of much of southern Italy, discovered the remains of a magnificent villa, thought to have belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus (known as Piso), a wealthy statesman and the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. The luxurious residence had elaborate gardens surrounded by colonnaded walkways and was filled with beautiful mosaics, frescoes and sculptures. And, in what was to become one of the most frustrating archaeological discoveries ever, the workmen also found approximately 2,000 papyrus scrolls.

And in 1883-4, they tried unrolling a few of these scrolls with disastrous results. They crumbled. Fortunately, the rest of the 2,000+ were left intact - they did not try to read them. Very cool move - there will always be some technology in the future to fix what you can not do today.

The article is a long and wonderful read - the lead researcher was able to cobble together elements of Computer Tomography and use a particle accelerator for high energy X-Ray spectroscopy to differentiate between the ink, the carbon from the charing of the paper and the paper substrate itself. They are now able to read the scrolls without having to unroll them. This was the personal library of some Very Rich Dude from 2,000 years ago.

Fun time to be alive. Web site for: Diamond Light Source

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on July 2, 2018 10:13 PM.

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