Research ArticleAPPLIED SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING

Ancient Greek text concealed on the back of unrolled papyrus revealed through shortwave-infrared hyperspectral imaging

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Science Advances  04 Oct 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 10, eaav8936
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav8936

Abstract

Only a few Herculaneum rolls exhibit writing on their reverse side. Since unrolled papyri are permanently glued to paperboard, so far, this fact was known to us only from 18th-century drawings. The application of shortwave-infrared (SWIR; 1000-2500 nm) hyperspectral imaging (HSI) to one of them (PHerc. 1691/1021) has revealed portions of Greek text hidden on the back more than 220 years after their first discovery, making it possible to recover this primary source for the ongoing new edition of this precious book. SWIR HSI has produced better contrast and legibility even on the extensive text preserved on the front compared to former imaging of Herculaneum papyri at 950 nm (improperly called multispectral imaging), with a substantial impact on the text reconstruction. These promising results confirm the importance of advanced techniques applied to ancient carbonized papyri and open the way to a better investigation of hundreds of other such papyri.

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