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French Magazine Features UK Work to Unwrap Damaged Manuscripts

In 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius swallowed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the 18th century, an ancient library in a Herculaneum villa yielded 1,800 papyrus scrolls that were so badly burned they looked more like lumps of charcoal than precious texts. Half of these scrolls have been read, but the other half will require space-age technology to decipher their secrets.

UK computer science professor Brent Seales has been working on just such a technology (see Odyssey Fall04). In July 2005, he gave a keynote address at the Friends of Herculaneum Society annual meeting in Oxford, England.

“My presentation had to do with how virtual unwrapping might be applied to the badly damaged scrolls from the Herculaneum site that remain unopened and un-read. At that meeting a reporter from Science et Vie—the French equivalent of Scientific American—interviewed me and subsequently worked with my team to include our experimental research in the article that appeared in November 2005.”

Seales says this recognition was an honor and adds, “I can read French—enough to understand technical stuff. A new three-year NSF grant will boost the development of this technology, and I’m negotiating for access to the Herculaneum scrolls. There are several hundred scrolls that have yet to be opened. The Herculaneum collection would be our ‘Holy Grail.’”
—Alicia P. Gregory

In Brief section as pdf (3 pages)