Secrets of Scrolls Buried by Mt. Vesuvius Deciphered Using X-Rays

The papyrus scrolls were charred and buried when the volcano erupted.

— -- Scientists are using X-rays to decipher a charred papyrus scroll that was buried when Mt. Vesuvius erupted nearly 2,000 years ago.

Using a delicate method called X-ray phase contrast tomography, researchers have been able to distinguish between the ink and the papyrus on a scroll that was illegible to the naked eye.

The method has allowed them to read several Greek letters from the scroll, which was one of several hundred that were excavated from a villa in Herculaneum, the ancient Roman town that was destroyed when the volcano erupted in 79 A.D.

"The papyri were completely covered in blazing-hot volcanic material," Vito Mocella, a scientist at the Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems in Naples, Italy, told the Associated Press.

Taking the discovery a step further, Mocella and his team were able to compare the handwriting from the burnt scroll to other texts.

Through this, they concluded the author of the scroll they were holding was likely Philodemus, a poet and philosopher who died a century before Mt. Vesuvius erupted.

The breakthrough, which was outlined in the journal Nature Communications, could allow researchers to one day unravel the secrets left behind from classical thinkers, shedding new light on Greek literature and philosophy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.