The University of Kentucky Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments

First Scans of the Herculaneum Papyri

First 3D scan of scroll

First 3D scan of scroll

Today represents an exciting step forward for the EDUCE project: the team acquired a preliminary CT-scan of PHerc Paris 3, a complete unopened scroll from Herculaneum. Earlier in the week, they mounted the scroll in a special container to support it during scanning inside the SkyScan 1173. With protection from this meticulously constructed custom mounting container, the scroll can stand on end while the scanner rotates it in a gentle pirouette. The team is poised to begin acquiring scans at the best resolution and with the best possible contrast, revealing the internal layers and giving hope to the goal of eventually “virtually unrolling” the layers to read the text.

The preliminary scans completed the first week of equipment set up and testing. The research team has been working to establish the equipment necessary to acquire micro-CT scans of the Herculaneum papyri. The research environment has come together from three different countries, and includes twelve terabytes of storage capacity, the SkyScan 1173 micro-CT scanner, and several computers to drive the EDUCE team’s software.

PHerc Paris 4, a complete unopened scroll from Herculaneum

PHerc Paris 3, a complete unopened scroll from Herculaneum

In addition to the successful preliminary scans, the team was also honored by a visit today by M. Jean Leclant, Secrétaire Perpétuel de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. It was his personal initiative and approval that made the team’s visit for this work possible. He and his wife spent time with the EDUCE team discussing the project, reviewing results and the research plan, and expressing support and enthusiasm for the work.

M. Jean Leclant and Dr. W. Brent Seales

M. Jean Leclant and Dr. W. Brent Seales

Watch this blog for our next post. Next week the team hopes to show a high-resolution slice of the internal structure of a complete Herculaneum scroll. Although the French will celebrate Bastille Day next Tuesday, 14 July, and the Institut will close its doors on Monday and Tuesday to celebrate this national holiday, the research team plans to film, photograph, and crunch some data in anticipation of the next step in the progress of the EDUCE project.

EDUCE Paris Team Sets Up at Institut de France

Team: (From left to right) Pierre Audouin, Ryan Baumann, Lowell Pike, Jurgen Stausens, Brent Seales, SkyScan 1173 scanner

From left to right: Pierre Audouin, Ryan Baumann, Lowell Pike, Jurgen Stausens, Brent Seales, SkyScan 1173 scanner

The EDUCE team arrived today at the Institut de France and were warmly welcomed by Madame Pastoureau (Director, Library), Madame Queyroux (Conservator), and Mr. Audouin (Communications). The EDUCE team is Brent Seales (Director), Lowell Pike (Infrastructure), Ryan Baumann (Scanning Scientist) and Steve Bailey (Media and Documentation). The rooms in the Institut de France were ready for us, and we established a calendar for the first week’s work. In the afternoon the equipment from Kentucky arrived on schedule. The team unpacked and began configuring computer equipment, network infrastructure, and data storage systems.

Jurgen Stausens from SkyScan-Belgium arrived in the afternoon and soon afterward the shipping company delivered the scanner. Jurgen unpacked it, ran diagnostics, and prepared the software for scanning. The scanner is ready to go!

We will calibrate and make test scans tomorrow (Tues), prepare to mount the scrolls inside the special containers on Wed, and plan to make the first micro-CT scan of a complete Herculaneum roll on Thursday.

Watch for an update on Friday where we summarize our first week of work.

EDUCE team prepares equipment

EDUCE team prepares equipment


Research Team Prepares to Scan Ancient Papyri

Papyrus ScrollFrom ancient times, words have been recorded that express immortal ideas and thoughts about society, culture, and philosophy. Around the world, people have recorded these writings in a variety of ways. However, we are now more aware than ever of the possibility of losing these recordings of human history. Due to war and political instability, natural disasters and black-market looters cultural relics are in danger of being lost forever. When they are lost, we lose the opportunity for our own and future generations to study and learn from them more about our own history and development.

We are in race to use 21st century technology to preserve the traces of ancient cultures before the relics disappear forever. The first week of July, a team of international computer scientists, conservators and scholars are gathering in Paris to use cutting-edge technology in an attempt to create readable images of text from ancient papyrus scrolls without opening them. Using minimally invasive scanning and virtual unwrapping, the team will seek to examine the interior structure of carbonized scrolls buried by the 79AD eruption of the volcano Vesuvius that also covered the city of Pompeii.

The team, which includes Dr. Brent Seales, Director of the Vis Center as well as a software engineer and a media specialist from the Center, will spend the month of July scanning two scrolls stored at the French National Academy. The goal of the project is to continue developing new technology that could provide a safe way to decipher and preserve more scrolls from Herculaneum, as well as other ancient books, manuscripts and documents that are too fragile to be opened.

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