Decoding 2,000-year-old scrolls with Diamond Light Source
Ancient scrolls are being virtually “unwrapped” using the UK’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source (funded through UKRI's Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)), combined with special techniques developed by a team from the University of Kentucky.
The 2,000-year-old Herculaneum Scrolls are world famous ancient artefacts discovered in 1752 in an ancient Roman villa near the Bay of Naples believed to belong to the family of Julius Caesar. Buried and carbonised by the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the scrolls are too fragile to be opened by hand.
Using the bright, high energy X-ray beam at Diamond Light Source along with the University of Kentucky’s virtual unwrapping” software pipeline, a machine-learning algorithm will allow the carbon ink on the scrolls to be detected. The six samples scanned at Diamond include four fragments which will provide the key data needed to “train” the algorithm because they contain many layers and text is visible on the top layers.
STFC’s senior detector scientist Dr Jens Dopke provided the Kentucky team with technical expertise that allows them to use Diamond’s beamline to gather data from the scroll samples.
Dr Dopke said: “With Diamond Light Source, we get such a high resolution within the object that we can then detect changes in the microscopic structure of the papyrus it was written on and therefore are able to reconstruct where the writing happened on that scroll.”
Find out more about the work on the STFC news story: Decoding 2,000-year-old scrolls with Diamond Light Source
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