Researchers have found a key that may unlock the only library of classical antiquity to survive along with its documents, raising at least a possibility of recovering vanished works of ancient Greek and Roman authors such as the lost books of Livy’s history of Rome.
The library is that of a villa in Herculaneum, a town that was destroyed in A.D. 79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that obliterated nearby Pompeii. Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was engulfed by mixtures of superhot gases and ash, which preserved the documents in a grand villa that probably belonged to the family of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar.
Though the hot gases did not burn the many papyrus rolls in the villa’s library, they turned them into cylinders of carbonized plant material. Many attempts have been made to unroll the carbonized scrolls since they were excavated in 1752.
But all were highly destructive, and scholars eventually decided to leave the scrolls alone in the hope that better methods would be invented. More than 300 scrolls survive more or less intact, with many more fragments.
Researchers led by Vito Mocella, of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Naples, Italy, now say that for the first time, they can read letters inside the scrolls without unrolling them. [..]
"It cannot be stolen by thieves, Nor can it be taken away by kings. It cannot be divided among brothers, It does not cause a load on your shoulders. If spent..It indeed always keeps growing. The wealth of knowledge..Is the most superior wealth of all!"