History : Jun-Jul 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 5 FOGLIA/SCALA,FLORENCE read the scrolls. Some of the best preserved documents were unfurled, and from the fragments that survived this process it has been estab- lished that most of the scrolls contain the writings of Ep- icurean philosophers. But the unrolling was highly de- structive; at best only about a third of the scrolls survived. Now, a new x-ray technique is allowing experts to finally read the writing on almost all of the burned scrolls without opening and destroying them. T he papyri scrolls had been tightly rolled and stacked by the hundreds; then di- saster struck. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79 sent superheated pyroclastic waves surging through the houses of Herculaneum. In one, since dubbed the Villa of the Papyri, these hundreds of scrolls were burnt and fused into fragile rolls of ash. Since the library was uncovered some 250 years ago, many attempts have been made to The WritingRising from the Ashes of Vesuvius A new technology is allowing experts to read the words hidden in the charred remains of scrolls without opening and damaging them. ANCIENT ROME The procedure has been de- veloped by researchers led by Vito Mocella of the Italian National Research Council. Their method is based on al- terations in the phase of the x-rays: the waves move at different speeds as they pass through materials of differ- ent densities. They move slower where there used to be ink, allowing researchers to reconstruct the print that used to be there and finally read the text hidden for near- ly 2,000 years. SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY/AGEFOTOSTOCK EPICUREAN philosophy follows the precepts of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 341 b.c . to 270 b.c. He considered that men are mortal; that there is no god; and that humans should try to enjoy their time on Earth as much as possible. However, he did not promote quite the unrestrained hedonism commonly associated with his name. ONE OF THE METHODS USED to read the scripts from the Villa of the Papyri involved opening them by layers and breaking them carefully as shown above. Even so, the scrolls were badly damaged. Most of the texts were Epicurean philosophy, with other works by Philodemus of Gadara, a philosopher from the first century a.d . SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY/AGEFOTOSTOCK THE VILLA OF THE PAPYRI HAS BEEN PAINSTAKINGLY EXCAVATED TO REVEAL HUNDREDS OF SCROLLS. IT MAY HAVE BELONGED TO JULIUS CAESAR’S FATHER-IN-LAW.