Unravelling the past
Much is known about the ancient and famous city of Pompeii, which was buried in tonnes of ash and rock when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. Less is known and written about the neighbouring city of Pompeii called Herculaneum, which also suffered the same fate from the same disaster. Ever since the discovery of Pompeii , archaeologists have uncovered the town street by street and house by house finding some amazing discoveries, including preserved shops, houses and even furniture and bodies encased in ash. The bodies of those who lost their lives, fleeing from the disaster.
One of the most amazing discoveries from Herculaneum was a library, in a spectacular villa, owned by an aristocrat, almost intact, full of ancient scrolls (documents in the form rolls of written text). This discovery is unique because never before had an ancient library complete with its contents ever been discovered and so much from the ancient world has been lost or destroyed, such as the great library of Alexandria. Unfortunately the scrolls themselves were damaged by the heat caused from the eruption and as a consequence are very fragile and any attempt to read their charred remains has proven difficult. Just like the famous Dead Sea scrolls, which have provided invaluable information to historians; it was thought that the information on the Herculaneum scrolls would never be able to be read.
However, advances in the field of science have given scientists, scholars and archaeologists new hope as a new technique involving a laser has finally managed to read some of the text written on the documents. Initially , infra-red light was used to try and make the text clearer to read, then in 2008 a new technique involving a multi-spectral analysis , involving taking 16 different images at different light levels and then putting together a composite image massively improved the ability to read the text.
Now, scientists have been able to read for the first time some of the scrolls and identify their subject matter and who wrote them. So far, most of the scrolls have been in Greek but it is thought that there may also be another library containing Latin scrolls and works of literature. One writing was identified as part of a lost work by the Greek philosopher Epicurus. Out of the 2000 scrolls recovered from the excavations in the villa, almost 1700 have been unrolled. Archaeologists are hoping that there may be more to discover in parts of the as yet, unexcavated villa. However, the Italian authorities are reluctant to allow any more digging at the site as they do not wish to disturb the modern neighbours whose properties now surround the site.