Journal of Undergraduate Research


herculaneum papyri, paleographic, latin library, scrolls




Comparative Arts and Letters


In the 1750’s AD, military engineers commissioned by the Bourbon rulers found many black, chalky chunks while excavating an underground Roman villa. Initially these lumps were thought to be coal or other detritus and were thus handled with little care. Later, some workers noticed that these black lumps were manmade and actually preserved traces of writing. Early attempts at deciphering and unrolling these papyri scrolls proved unfruitful and resulted in the destruction of many papyri. Eventually a meticulous approach applied by Antonio Piaggio, an experienced ancient manuscript and document worker, proved successful. Although it preserved the papyri, Piaggio’s method worked slowly. With many of the papyri now unrolled, in the 18th and 19th centuries the reading and translating could commence. Throughout the history of Herculaneum papyrology, scholars have used whatever technology facilitated seeing the papyri. Not until recent times has technology proved effective at solving the illegibility of carbon based ink on a carbonized background. BYU provided an innovative and ingenious solution using multi-spectral imaging. Essentially this technology distinguishes between the reflectivity of light that the human eye cannot discern.