Out of the Ashes

Bronze statue
A bronze statue of a runner, excavated from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.
(Photo by Mark Philbrick, Brigham Young University, courtesy Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy)

Been a while since I covered anything on television, but I caught Out of the Ashes: Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum on PBS this afternoon. Fascinating stuff.

Now mind you, I’m no scholar. I thought Herculaneum must be some type of glowing mineral that makes Hercules weak or something. Instead, it’s a city on the Bay of Naples that was covered up along with Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

Along the shoreline of Herculaneum was a huge villa, and when it was partially excavated in 1752, 1,800 preserved papyrus scrolls were found. The show is about the attempts that have been made to unroll them. Sadly, many were destroyed before anyone started having real success. In fact, the first few that were found were burned as firewood, as their discoverers thought they were charcoal!

Rolled scroll
A carbonized scroll from Herculaneum; many scrolls were so badly burned and crushed that they have yet to be unrolled or read.
(Photo by Mark Philbrick, Brigham Young University, courtesy Biblioteca Nazionale, Naples, Italy)

You can catch the show on PBS, if you’re lucky, or buy it online.

The Washington Post ran an article on using imaging technology to read ancient scrolls (this isn’t specifically about the Herculaneum scrolls, but it’s the same technique being used).

Wired has a story about the scrolls and the group working to restore them: Tales from the Crypt: How a handful of Mormons with an infrared camera unlocked the secrets buried beneath Vesuvius.

And last, the Philodemus Project Home Page has some partial translations of the scrolls. (Philodemus being one of the philsophers who authored some of the scrolls that’ve been translated.)

Seriously…how cool is it that we can read the thoughts of these scribblers of 79 A.D.?

2 thoughts on “Out of the Ashes

  1. This looks so interesting! I love all this kind of stuff. I saw that you got a ton of spam. Your weblog home page thingie said that they got a glut of spam and that they’re trying to take care of it.

    I really LOVE this blog and the way that it’s configured. There is so much room. I especially love the books that you have recommended.

    Hope you are doing well–Chris

  2. Liked the program. However, there doesn’t seem to be any production information beyond “BYU Television.” I would like to know who the music was by. It sounds similar to Enya. Without further information though…
    If you find out it would make a nice addition to the blog.

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