- Title: X-rays brighter than the sun to virtually decipher ancient scrolls
- Date: 3rd October 2019
- Summary: DIDCOT, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (SEPTEMBER 30, 2019) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (English) PHYSICAL SCIENCE DIRECTOR OF DIAMOND LIGHT SOURCE, LAURENT CHAPON, SAYING: "In this case it means trying non-destructively to understand and read what is written inside a scroll without opening it. So the idea is essentially like a CT scanner where you would take an image of a person, a three-dimensional image of a person and you can slice through it to see the different organs. Here we are going to actually utilise the scroll. We are going to shine very intense light through it and then detect on the other side a number of two-dimensional images. From that reconstruct a three-dimensional volume of the object and we will be able to unwrap it virtually, to actually read the text in a non-destructive manner."
- Embargoed: 17th October 2019 00:29
- Keywords: Diamond Light Source Pompeii Herculaneum scrolls University of Kentucky ancient texts x-rays synchrotron
- Location: DIDCOT AND LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM/ PARIS, FRANCE/ ANIMATION/ POMPEII, ITALY
- City: DIDCOT AND LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM/ PARIS, FRANCE/ ANIMATION/ POMPEII, ITALY
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Information Technologies / Computer Sciences,Science
- Reuters ID: LVA003AZJKUVT
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Scientists at Britain's national synchrotron facility have harnessed powerful light beams to virtually unwrap and decipher fragile scrolls dating back some 2,000 years in a process they hope will provide new insights into the ancient world.
The two complete scrolls and four fragments - from the so-called Herculaneum library, the only one surviving from antiquity - were buried and carbonized by the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and are too fragile to be opened.
The items were examined at the Diamond Light Source facility in Oxfordshire, home to Britain's synchrotron, a particle accelerator in which beams travel around a closed-loop path.
Electrons are accelerated to near light speeds until they emit light 10 billion times brighter than the sun, then directed into laboratories in 'beamlines' which allow scientists to study minute specimens using x-ray beams in extreme detail without damaging them.
"The idea is essentially like a CT scanner where you would take an image of a person, a three-dimensional image of a person and you can slice through it to see the different organs," said Laurent Chapon, physical science director of Diamond Light Source.
"We... shine very intense light through (the scroll) and then detect on the other side a number of two-dimensional images. From that we reconstruct a three-dimensional volume of the object... to actually read the text in a non-destructive manner," Chapon said.
The ink on the scrolls is difficult to see, even through a synchrotron, because it is carbon-based like the papyrus it is written on. But scientists hope the density of the paper will be different where written characters are present.
By scanning the fragments where characters are visible, they hope to create a machine-learning algorithm that will decipher what is written on the scrolls.
The data generated by the process will be analysed by scientists at Kentucky University in the United States using advanced computing techniques to decipher the scrolls' contents.
"The library at Herculaneum was the only library that survived from antiquity and because of that the material inside is extremely valuable," said Brent Seales, professor of computer science at Kentucky University.
"Texts from the ancient world are rare and precious, and they simply cannot be revealed through any other known process."
(Production: George Sargent)
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