Abstract: Overcoming Damage Through Digitization


This lecture develops the idea of “virtual unwrapping”, which is the visualization and analysis of objects that have been digitized via imaging technology such as micro computed tomography (micro-CT).  Virtual unwrapping and other imaging techniques are conceived as a way to read objects such as scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.  Two such scrolls, which are now stored in the library of  l’Institut National in Paris, were scanned via micro-CT in 2009.

The town of Herculaneum was destroyed and buried under 25 meters of pyroclastic flow from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79.  The library of papyrus scrolls was carbonized in that eruption, and finally discovered between 1750 and 1765 when the Villa was first excavated.  Many of the scrolls that have been opened are known to contain classical literary writings.  There are hundreds that are still unopened and many fragments containing multiple layers that are now essentially inseparable.

Following a set of successful experiments on proxy objects and other real artifacts, this presentation traces the development of technology, the history of the artifacts, and the convergence of specific technological achievements of the past century which make possible the non-invasive analysis of extremely fragile artifacts such as the scrolls.


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