Science News

X-Rays Reveal Secrets Of Ancient Scrolls Buried By Mt. Vesuvius In 79AD

X-rays have offered scientists a new way to study ancient papyrus scrolls that were charred in the volcanic eruption that destroyed the city of Pompeii in 79AD.

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius leveled a nearby town of Herculaneum along with Pompeii. At the time, hundreds of scrolls inside a villa in the town were carbonized, not incinerated. While the outside of the scrolls were charred, the writing has remained on the inside, according to the Huffington Post.

Some of the scrolls were unraveled to study, but this process was abandoned as it usually destroyed the scroll. Researchers using X-ray phase contrast tomography have been able to obtain 3D scans of the inside of the scrolls. While the ink is indistinguishable from the papyrus, the scans revealed small bumps in the surface of the scroll, according to National Geographic.

Researchers discovered that the ink was not absorbed by the papyrus. Instead, the small bumps — which are just one-tenth of a millimeter high, show where the ink rests on the scroll, creating a relief.

The scrolls come from a library that is believed to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. Researchers are hopeful the scrolls may be hiding lost works or even known works in their original form.

[quote text_size=”small” author=”– David Sider” author_title=”Professor of classics at New York University”]

For a scholar, it would be wonderful to have a manuscript of Virgil written in his lifetime, because what we have are medieval manuscripts which have suffered many changes at the hands of copyists.


So far, researchers have only deciphered a few Greek letters, although they have been able to make a few conclusions. The scroll scanned is believed to be the work of Epicurean philosopher and poet Philodemus, who died a century before the eruption, according to ABC News.

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