6 October 2023, 21:00

Revealing the secrets of Herculaneum: mysterious ancient scrolls

Revealing the secrets of Herculaneum: mysterious ancient scrolls
The ancient city of Herculaneum, located on the shores of the picturesque Bay of Naples in Italy, is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders. While Pompeii often gets the spotlight, Herculaneum has its own remarkable story to tell, thanks in large part to the discovery of a collection of ancient scrolls.

In August 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted catastrophically, changing the landscape of the region forever. The eruption buried not only Pompeii, but also the nearby city of Herculaneum under a thick layer of volcanic ash and lava.

This tragic event sealed the ancient cities in a time capsule, giving modern archaeologists a rare opportunity to explore life in the Roman Empire. A library of 1,800 scrolls, found during excavations in 1752-1754, was also buried under a layer of ash.
Most of the scrolls were so burned and charred that when they tried to unroll, they crumbled. Their study continues with the help of “candling”, i.e. radiation ranging from X-rays to infrared. The three-dimensional models thus obtained can be deciphered.

The scrolls contained a variety of texts, including the philosophical works of Epicurus and Philodemus, as well as works of poetry, science, and even early forms of novels. They provide valuable information about the intellectual and cultural life of the Roman elite in the first century BC. But most of the papyri have not yet been read.
For centuries, charred scrolls have posed a serious problem for scientists and historians. Attempts to turn them around often led to disintegration. Between 1802 and 1806, the Reverend John Hayter unrolled and partially deciphered about 200 papyri. These copies are kept in the Bodleian Library, where they are known as the "Oxford Facsimiles of the Herculaneum Papyri".

By the mid-20th century, only 585 scrolls or fragments were fully unrolled, and 209 were partially unrolled. Of the unfolded papyri, about 200 were deciphered and published, and 150 were only deciphered. The bulk of the surviving manuscripts are currently in the National Library of Naples.
Since 1999, the procedure for digitizing the scrolls began, using multispectral imaging methods. International experts and famous scientists participated in the project. After more than 12 years, it was announced that the task of digitizing the 1,600 papyri of Herculaneum had been successfully completed.

Texts found in the Herculaneum scrolls have provided invaluable information about various aspects of ancient Roman life. They shed light on philosophical debates, medical knowledge and even the daily lives of local residents.

The Herculaneum Scrolls remind us that the past is never truly lost; he is simply waiting for the right moment to reveal his secrets to those willing to seek them.

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