Sunday 30 May 2010

On the stubbornness of scrolls from the Villa dei Papiri

An article on on the University of Kentucky's EDUCE project — Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration — and their efforts to use x-ray scans to read some of the carbonized scrolls from the Villa dei Papiri's library.

The [University of Kentucky] team spent a month last summer making numerous X-ray scans of two of the scrolls that are stored at the French National Academy in Paris. They hoped that computer processing would convert the scans into digital images showing the interiors of the scrolls and revealing the ancient writing. The main fear, however, was that the Roman writers might have used carbon-based inks, which would be essentially invisible to the scans.

That fear has turned out to be fact.

"We hoped that we could look for calcium or other trace compounds in the ink that might help us tease out the writing," [Brent Seales, Gill professor of engineering] said. "But that hasn't worked."

Seales says he now hopes that re-scanning the scrolls with more powerful X-ray equipment will reveal the text, which scholars are anxious to read.


Seales says that, in addition to the carbon-ink problem, the sheer volume of computer data produced from the X-ray scans overwhelmed UK's interactive software. That slowed the system to the point that technicians were typing in commands and waiting half an hour or more for a response, he said.

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