Science and Technology Facilities Council
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, 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 yesterday 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.”
Professor Brent Seales leads the University of Kentucky research team and said the data gathered at Diamond is a crucial step forward in allowing us to visualise and read the ancient texts.
He yesterday said:
“Texts from the ancient world are rare and precious, and they simply cannot be revealed through any other known process. The scan session at Diamond Light Source promises to be a key moment in our quest for a reliable pathway to reading the invisible library,”
These scroll samples are so delicate, custom-made cases were used to transport them from their home at the Institut de France in Paris to the UK, with personal supervision by Director of the Bibliothèque at the Institut de France, Madame Françoise Bérard.
The University of Kentucky’s Digital Restoration Initiative is developing software to allow the non-invasive revelation of text hidden by damage.
Latest News from
Science and Technology Facilities Council
New STFC brand launched as part of unified UKRI identity10/10/2019 09:18:00
A new brand for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has been launched today as part of a unified identity for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Congratulations to astronomy and cosmology trio for Nobel Prize for Physics09/10/2019 12:05:00
STFC’s astronomy community congratulates the three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics: Professor James Peebles, Professor Michel Mayor and Professor Didier Queloz.
STFC partnership secures £250,000 funding for green hydrogen research08/10/2019 13:20:00
A project supported by STFC investigating how ammonia can be used to make hydrogen a sustainable energy source has been awarded £250,000 in government funding.
University of Bath joins CERN physics experiment group03/10/2019 13:05:00
Another UK institution has joined a long-running experiment group at CERN, as the University of Bath signs up to become an affiliate member of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment.
Now LIVE – The new winter programme of star-gazing and story-telling events at Arbriachan Forest27/09/2019 12:05:00
As the nights start to draw in, Star Stories returns with another captivating programme of family-friendly stargazing and storytelling events on the Dark Sky Discovery site in Abriachan Forest, south of Inverness.
£20 milllion project to tackle space weather announced24/09/2019 17:14:00
£20 million of funding to upgrade the UK’s resilience to space weather events has been announced today by the Prime Minister at the UN General Assembly.
Nowhere to hide – Nanosatellite technology drives new frontier in tracking down stolen vehicles23/09/2019 11:28:00
A UK start-up is developing a ground breaking new technology that will make tracking stolen vehicles faster and more reliable.
Water detected on potentially 'habitable' planet for the first time12/09/2019 15:05:00
UK researchers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet with habitable temperatures in a world first, which has been supported by funding from STFC.
New community of scientists aim to improve cancer diagnosis09/09/2019 13:25:00
The STFC Cancer Diagnosis Network+ was launched recently (06 September 2019), creating a community of scientists across a variety of disciplines to address challenges in the diagnosis of cancer – one of the leading causes of death worldwide.