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Ancient Scrolls Blackened by Vesuvius Are Readable at Last

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The lavish villa sat overlooking the Bay of Naples, offering bright ocean views to the well-heeled Romans who came from across the empire to study. The estate’s library was stocked with texts by prominent thinkers of the day, in particular a wealth of volumes by the philosopher Philodemus, an instructor of the poet Virgil.

But the seaside library also sat in the shadow of a volcano that was about to make terrible history.

The 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius is most famous for burying Pompeii, spectacularly preserving many artifacts—and residents—in that once-bustling town south of Naples. The tumbling clouds of ash also entombed the nearby resort of Herculaneum, which is filled with its own wonders. During excavations there in 1752, diggers found a villa containing bundles of rolled scrolls, carbonized by the intense heat of the pyroclastic flows and preserved under layers of cement-like rock. Further digs showed that the scrolls were part of an extensive library, earning the structure the name Villa of the Papyri.

Blackened and warped by the volcanic event, the roughly 1,800 scrolls found so far have been a challenge to read. Some could be mechanically unrolled, but hundreds remain too fragile to make the attempt, looking like nothing more than clubs of charcoal. Now, more than 200 years later, archaeologists examining two of the scrolls have found a way to peer inside them with x-rays and read text that has been lost since antiquity.

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scoll-close.jpgA closeup of a Herculaneum papyrus scroll used in an international scanning project. E. Brun

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ancient-scrolls-blackened-vesuvius-are-readable-last-herculaneum-papyri-180953950/

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