Lonely Planet Writer

Scientists use x-rays to read fragile ancient papyrus scrolls

The Roman town of Herculaneum.
The Roman town of Herculaneum. Image by Andy / Andrew Fogg / CC BY 2.0

Scientists have come up with a new way to read what is written on hundreds of ancient papyrus scrolls found in a library in the Roman town of Herculaneum, not far from Pompeii. Herculaneum was buried in AD 79 by the same eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii. Hot gases from the eruption carbonised the papyrus scrolls, leaving them looking like charcoal logs. Since they were found in the 1750s, many of the delicate scrolls have been destroyed by attempts to unroll and read them. The new technique uses x-rays to work out what is written on the papyrus scrolls without having to unroll them. Historians hope that some of the undeciphered scrolls may contain famous lost ancient works. Read more: telegraph.co.uk