Ancient philosophic scrolls — scorched by Vesuvius — could be made readable once again
Carbonized papyrus scrolls may again see the light after thousands of years.
- Researchers will be using new technology to examine famous ancient artifacts.
- They'll use the powerful light source, Diamond, at the U.K.'s national synchrotron facility.
- The team has developed a special technique to virtually unwrap the scrolls so that they can be read.
Ancient charred scrolls written in a dead language made readable again. No, this isn't the trick of some arcane mystic in a pulp story. It's 21st-century fact. It may soon be, at least. Researchers are banking on a new technology that may help them read damaged documents from about 2,000 years ago.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clarke
The scrolls come from the ruins of Herculaneum, which was decimated and covered in ash by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. They were unearthed in 1752 and have remained in scholarly custody ever since.
They were discovered in what's believed to be the library of Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. The library has come to be known as the Villa of the Papyri, it is the only intact library from antiquities. The majority of the documents, however, are charred and rolled up like logs, making it impossible to unravel and read the text in a regular manner.
"Although you can see on every flake of papyrus that there is writing, to open it up would require that papyrus to be really limber and flexible – and it is not anymore," Brent Seales, director of the Digital Restoration Initiative at the University of Kentucky stated.
Previous attempts to unroll the scrolls led to either their destruction or made the ink fade. This ingenious new technology may be able to enliven these unknown historical works again for a modern audience.
Light billion times brighter than the sun
Seales and his team will be using the synchrotron, the Diamond Light Source, a powerful facility that is able to produce light billions of times brighter than the sun by accelerating electrons to nearly the speed of light.
They'll be testing this method on two intact scrolls and four smaller fragmented ones from L'institut de France.
Laurent Chapon, physical science director of Diamond Light Source told Reuters:
"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."
In the research paper, "From invisibility to readability: Recovering the ink of Herculaneum," the scientists describe the process behind this new technology.
"We demonstrate a new computational approach that captures, enhances, and makes visible the characteristic signature created by carbon ink in micro-CT."
This methodology utilizes photographs of the scroll fragments which are visible to the naked eye. Next, the researchers will teach a set of machine-learning algorithms to find where the ink is expected to be in x-ray scans of the same fragments.
The entire idea behind the process is that the algorithm will be able to find the differences between the blank and inked area sections from the x-ray scans, which should then create a full visualization of the papyrus fibers.
Seales said that the team has finished collecting all of the x-ray data and are in the process of training their algorithms.
"We do not expect to immediately see the text from the upcoming scans, but they will provide the crucial building blocks for enabling that visualization," Seales states in a press release.
If the technique works, the team hopes to apply their new system to 900 other Herculaneum scrolls that came from the villa:
"The tool can then be deployed on data from the still-rolled scrolls, identify the hidden ink, and make it more prominently visible to any reader."
What do the scrolls contain?
The researchers can only speculate as to what the scrolls contain.
Seales states, "For the most part the writings [in opened scrolls] are Greek philosophy around Epicureanism, which was a prevailing philosophy of the day."
It's possible that the scrolls may contain Latin text. A majority of classical libraries usually have both a Greek and Latin section, yet only a few scrolls from Herculaneum have been found to be written in Latin.
Papyrologist and classicist at the University of Oxford, Dr Dirk Obbink, who has been involved with the work believes that some of the text may be written in Latin.
"A new historical work by Seneca the Elder was discovered among the unidentified Herculaneum papyri only last year, thus showing what uncontemplated rarities remain to be discovered there," he stated.
Obbink hopes that some of the scrolls may contain lost works, such as more poems by Sappho or Mark Antony's treatise on his own drunkenness: "I would very much like to be able to read that one."
This new technology will give us a greater capability to unravel the secrets of our past lost to disaster. Thousands of unreadable scrolls and damaged artifacts could one day see the light once again.
- Mount Vesuvius eruption made skulls explode - Big Think ›
- Physics Reveals What's In Herculaneum's Incinerated Ancient Scrolls ›
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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