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Nobody knows that better than professor Brent Seales, who is attempting to decipher papyrus scrolls created about 2,000 years ago that were nearly destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum.
Utilizing Oxfordshire, England’s, super high-tech Diamond Light Source, a high-resolution X-ray-like machine capable of discerning slight traces of ink, it uses an intense light beam to read faint writing.
'When I started thinking about this, this technology didn’t exist," said Seales, director of the Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky told Smithsonian.com. “I don’t think there’s another detector in the world right now that could do this kind of measurement.”
In 1752, Spaniards discovered the remains of a spectacular villa believed to be owned by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. Inside, they found an incredible stash of 2,000 severely damaged papyrus scrolls.
Starting approximately in the third century A.D., ink usually included iron, which is dense and easy to spot in X-ray images. But the scrolls uncovered at Herculaneum were written with a mix of charcoal and water, which is much harder to distinguish from the carbonized papyrus it was written on, according to Smithsonian.com.
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