2019-07-02 13:30:40 UTC
Yet another scanning attempt to digitally unroll and read the charred
Herculaneum scrolls is under way.
"Last month, though, three scrolls and another scroll fragment were
transported by library officials in a custom carrying case to California
with the hopes that new technology can unlock the secrets. The project
seeks to read the scrolls without unfurling them, first by using a
high-resolution CT scan, then by using software to analyze a mountain of
data and ³digitally unwrap² the text."
"The computer scientist leading the work, Brent Seales of the University
of Kentucky, has already had other breakthroughs. In 2016, his team
decoded an unopened and charred ancient scroll from Israel that was
revealed to contain the book of Leviticus written in Hebrew.
But the attempt to read the scrolls named the Herculaneum scrolls for
the town where they were found is far more challenging, because they
are written with carbon-based ink; the text is carbon hidden inside
Seales tried to scan two of the scrolls in 2009. ³But the resolution
wasn¹t quite good enough,² said Christy Chapman, a researcher who is
part of the University of Kentucky¹s digital restoration initiative.
Chapman said subsequent advances have made the work more feasible. In a
paper published earlier this year, Seales and his team wrote that
Herculaneum papyri ³represent a perfect storm of challenges for the
virtual unwrapping process.² But Seales said certain trace signals can
now help distinguish the carbon ink from the carbonized papyrus.
The researchers depend on a painstaking process in which each scroll is
scanned for roughly 24 hours. The scans produce a set of cross-sectional
images, each resembling a topographic map, showing the internal contours
of the wound papyrus. The scanning also collects data about the surface
of the scrolls, including any signals of ink. Software takes that
information and aims to convert it into something readable, mapping out
the shape of the papyrus, along with any detectable text."