Scientists are using a light brighter than the sun to read ancient scrolls
- that were buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.
The two complete scrolls, and four fragments, are from a library in the Roman town of Herculaneum
which was also destroyed in the AD 79 volcanic eruption.
In the 18th century, the town and library were unearthed.
Brent Seales is a professor of computer science at the University of Kentucky -
(SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY PROFESSOR OF COMPUTER SCIENCE, BRENT SEALES, SAYING:
"The library at Herculaneum was the only library that survived from antiquity and because of that the material inside is extremely valuable."
But the scrolls are too fragile to be opened.
The eruption carbonized the papyrus - the process, usually through heat, by which matter is turned into carbon or charcoal.
But British scientists have found way to virtually unwrap the 2,000-year-old texts, using a particle accelerator.
At the Diamond Light Source facility in Oxfordshire, they used a synchotron, a type of particle accelerator in which beams travel around a closed loop circuit to produce a light many time brighter than the sun
- which is then shone through the scrolls.
The scientists hope to detect where the density of the paper is different because of characters written on it,
explains the facility's physical science director, Laurent Chapon:
(SOUNDBITE) (English) PHYSICAL SCIENCE DIRECTOR OF DIAMOND LIGHT SOURCE, LAURENT CHAPON, SAYING:
So the idea is essentially like a CT scanner where you would take an image of a person, a three-dimensional image of a person and you can slice through it to see the different organs. Here we are going to actually utilize the scroll. We are going to shine very intense light through it and then detect on the other side a number of two-dimensional images. From that reconstruct a three-dimensional volume of the object and we will be able to unwrap it virtually, to actually read the text in a non-destructive manner."
By scanning fragments where characters are visible, the intention is to create a machine-learning algorithm that will decipher what is written on the scrolls.
The data will then be analyzed at the university of Kentucky