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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 ›
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.