Scientists use X-rays to read ancient scrolls hidden and preserved in Pompeii

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Jan 22, 2015, 4:10 PM EST

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the days of ancient Rome left two cities almost perfectly preserved, as Pompeii and Herculaneum were quickly buried in ash. Among the buried secrets? A library stocked with scrolls from the era.

The library and the scrolls inside have remained largely locked away for nearly 2,000 years, even after a team of archaeologists unearthed the find in 1752. But now science has almost caught up with history. As Popular Science notes, the find is “extraordinary,” as it represents an insanely rare peek into texts from the era.

Hundreds of charred papyrus scrolls were uncovered, and teams had previously tried to use physical approaches to peel the scrolls apart. But those tactics weren’t always successful and almost always resulted in the destruction of the scrolls. So they stopped, hoping technology would eventually find a way to read the scrolls without destroying them.

Enter 2015. Scientists say they can use the X-ray phase-contrast tomography (XPCT) technique, which essentially differentiates the charcoal used to write on the scrolls (it seeped in deeper than the ash on top) from everything else. The X-ray technique allows them to dig through different layers via X-rays, which should allow teams to read them. It’s not the fastest process, but it should be effective.

We can’t wait to see what the team finds. Here’s hoping there are some awesome secrets hidden inside.

(Via Popular Science)