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Nat Commun. 2015 Jan 20;6:5895. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6895.

Revealing letters in rolled Herculaneum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging.

Author information

1
CNR-IMM-Istituto per la Microelettronica e Microsistemi-Unità di Napoli, via P. Castellino 111, 80131 Napoli, Italy.
2
1] ESRF-The European Synchrotron, 71 Avenue des Martyrs, CS40220, F-38043 Grenoble Cedex 9, France [2] Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität, Am Coulombwall 6, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany.
3
ESRF-The European Synchrotron, 71 Avenue des Martyrs, CS40220, F-38043 Grenoble Cedex 9, France.
4
CNRS-IRHT-Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes, 10 rue Molitor, 75016 Paris, France.

Abstract

Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

PMID:
25603114
DOI:
10.1038/ncomms6895

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