SECRETS of the LOST SCROLLS unlocked by key to HEALTHY BOOBS

Crispy Roman database yields to cunning scan tomography

Carbonised scrolls from a Roman library destroyed in a volcanic eruption are being read using a cunning X-ray technique more commonly employed in medical screening for breast cancer, boffins have announced.

The scrolls in question are the famous Herculaneum library ones. Herculaneum was a Roman resort located on the Bay of Naples, and like Pompeii it was destroyed in the Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD. Almost seventeen centuries later in 1754 a large archive of scrolls, burned but still often in one piece, was uncovered at the site. Ever since, scholars have attempted to read them, but with limited success as they mostly come to bits while being unrolled.

Now, however, boffins are beginning to read the crispy scrolls without unrolling them, using the techniques of X-ray tomography - cross-sectional imaging. This is already in medical use among other applications, employed in checking for breast cancers.

"It works very well on some medical applications - particularly mammography - because you're looking at details that have a very similar composition to that of the background," Dr Silvia Pani - an expert in the field - told the BBC.

"That's where conventional imaging sometimes fails. What they saw would have been impossible with conventional X-ray imaging."

There was apparently a lot of excitement in the lab when the first actual written characters resolved out of the X-ray hash. Daniel Delattre of the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes describes the moment:

“After several trials to select the most readable samples from the scanned images, there is no longer any doubt; the dark curves cannot be confused with the papyrus fibres mesh – victory! We can see letters! We can see deformed, or twisted Greek letters! Hurrah! Amazing!”

(Greek was often used by educated Romans in the time of the early Empire, and in fact the precursors to Latin script were originally based on it.)

Here's a vid explaining the process:

The boffins involved in the hands-off scroll probe cleverness write:

These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents ... 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 literature and philosophy.

Full details on the study can be read here, published in the learned journal Nature Communications. There's layman level stuff courtesy of the European Synchrotron here. ®

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