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Archaeologists find best-preserved human remains in Pompeii

Secundio’s remains were found at the Porta Sarno necropolis. Credit: Cesare Abbate.

The Roman Empire was no stranger to rag to riches stories, despite the momentous inequality that plagued the realm. Take Marcus Venerius Secundio of Pompeii, for instance. The man was born a slave but managed to gain his freedom, then quickly climbed the social ladder, becoming a priest until he died at the ripe old age of 60. Now, almost two thousand years later, Italian archaeologists have excavated Secundio’s tomb and were stunned to find his were the best-preserved remains found in the once-great city of Pompeii thus far.

Pompeii was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. However, its terrible and harrowing undoing also ensured the city was preserved arguably like no other ancient settlement. Under the many layers of ash and pumice, archaeologists have unearthed remarkably well-preserved buildings, artworks, and frescos, as well as human remains, some of them gruesomely trapped in their death pose by the eruption’s hot ash.

The tomb of Marcus Venerius Secundio. Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

Yet despite Pompeii being rediscovered in 1738, the site continues to impress and dazzle archaeologists. The tomb of Secundio, whose partially mummified remains are thought to be the most well-preserved found thus far, marks such an occasion.

Although it’s not clear when Secundio was buried, one thing’s certain: he died before the Vesuvius eruption. His final resting place was uncovered at the Porta Sarno necropolis, close to one of the main entrance gates into the city.

His partially mummified remains, including white hair, bones, and even an ear, amazed the researchers from the European University of Valencia and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii  – a lucky find considering the Roman custom was to cremate the dead.

The fact that Secundio, who was part of a college of priests known as the Augustales, was found buried is indicative of his high social status. Secundio “may well have had himself buried and even embalmed with the precise intention of preserving his body from the moisture of the grave,” Llorenç Alapont, an archaeologist at Valencia University, told ANSA.

Closeup of Marcus Venerius Secundio’s remains. Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

“The tomb at the Sarno gate is really an extraordinary discovery because of all the information it can give us, a unique burial for that era in Pompeii, and it may in some ways also change our knowledge on the rules of death rites in the Roman world,” Alapont added.

The marble inscription from Secundio’s tomb. Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

That’s not all. A marble slab found on top of the tomb not only contains information about Seuncdio’s life but also makes reference to theatre performances in Pompeii that were conducted in Greek. This is the first evidence that Pompeii hosted performances in the Greek language and is a testament to the cosmopolitan nature of the great fallen city. Archaeologists also found a glass bottle inscribed with the name of a woman, Novia Amabilis, who might have been Secundio’s wife.

“It’s an extremely interesting testimony, which must be linked to the others that we have of the presence of Greeks and above all Greek culture in Pompeii,” Former Pompeii director Massimo Osanna said in a statement, who added that Greek culture was  “all the rage in Pompeii.”

Archaeologists uncover ancient street shop in Pompeii

Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by a volcanic eruption in the year 79 AD, continues to impress and dazzle archaeologists. Recently, they’ve uncovered a frescoed hot food stand that would have been the Roman equivalent of a street food shop, complete with advertisements and actual remains of food.

The fast-food eatery is the first intact structure of its type to be excavated, said Pompeii Archaeological Park’s longtime chief, Massimo Osanna. It’s called a thermopolium, and it’s essentially a hot-food-and-drink stand, covered by attractive frescoes that would appeal to Roman passersby.

The thermopolium is basically a multi-sided counter, with wide holes inserted into the top where the vessels for hot food would be stored (not unlike some modern hot food or soup stands). Aside from the stand itself, remains of the food itself have also been found. Traces of pork, snails, beef, and fish have been uncovered, something which Valeria Amoretti, a site anthropologist, calls a “testimony to the great variety of animal products” that Romans used.

“Our preliminary analyses shows that the figures drawn on the front of the counter, represent, at least in part, the food and drink that were sold there,” said Amoretti for Reuters.

“We know what they were eating that day,” said Osanna, referring to the day of Pompeii’s destruction in 79 A.D. The food remains indicated “what’s popular with the common folk,” Osanna told Rai state TV, noting that street-food places weren’t frequented by the Roman elite.

A segment of the structure was first discovered in 2019, and since then, archaeologists kept digging until they dug up the entire structure.

The stand features several remarkable frescoes, including images of two upside-down mallards and a rooster, likely an advertisement for the menu. Another fresco depicted a dog on a leash, perhaps reminding walkers to keep their pets on a leash. The painting also features vulgar graffiti, which Romans seem to have been quite fond of.

Nine amphorae were also uncovered, with analysis hopefully revealing their content.

There were also a few surprises about the dig, such as the complete skeleton of a dog — a small dog, about 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) tall at shoulder level. Remains such as this are very rare in Ancient times, and the find suggests that Romans were already mindful of selective breeding for dogs. A bronze ladle, presumably used by the shop owners, was also uncovered.

Pompeii was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, near present-day Naples in Italy. It was sealed by the ash and lava, remaining almost like a time capsule offering a peek into the life of the Romans. The eruption covered the city, hiding it up until the 16th century. By the 1700s, clandestine digs started on site with people looking for valuables and in 1750, archaeological digs also started. So far, about two thirds of the entire city has been uncovered.

Vivid gladiator fresco discovered at Pompeii

The fresco was uncovered in what experts think was a tavern frequented by gladiators. Image credits: Italian Culture Ministry.

The incredibly well-preserved fresco depicts two fighting gladiators (a murmillo and a Thracian), distinguished by their weapons and armor.

The “Murmillo” fighter wears a plumed helmet with a visor, and is equipped with a classic Gladius sword and a rectangular shield. The Thracian gladiator has a very short sword with a slightly curved blade called a sica, designed to maim the opponent’s unarmored back. The fight seems to be drawing close to an end, as the Murmillo seems to be winning.

“What is particularly interesting is the extremely realistic representation of the wounds, such as the one on the wrist and chest of the unsuccessful gladiator, from which the blood runs, wetting his leggings,” Pompeii‘s director Massimo Osanna said.”The Thraex is gesturing with his hand, possibly asking for mercy,” he said, adding that we don’t actually know how the fight ended.

The fresco was discovered on a wall beneath a stairwell at Pompeii, an ancient Roman city which was destroyed along with Herculaneum by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Although the cities were virtually destroyed by the eruption, their architecture was also preserved by a layer of ash and pumice, offering archaeologists a unique glimpse into the life of ancient Romans.

Image credits: Italian Culture Ministry.

The fresco measures 1.12 by 1.5 meters (3.7 x 5 feet) and lies in what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators. These taverns would provide both accommodation and serve as a brothel for gladiators.

The building lies close to the well-known gladiators’ barracks in Regio V — an entire quarter designed for gladiators, which yielded impressive archaeological finds (but is still off-limits to the public).

The ruins of Pompeii are in remarkable shape. Image credits; ElfQrin / Wikipedia.

Other impressive frescoes have been discovered in the same area: a Roman fast food” counter (or thermopolium) was found in March, and another fresco depicting the mythological hunter Narcissus enraptured by his own reflection in a pool of water was discovered in February. Other findings (including the human remains or a woman and three children huddled together) have also been discovered in the area.

However, what is perhaps the most significant find in the area is an inscription which states that the city was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius after October 17, 79 AD and not on August 24 as previously believed.

It just goes to show how valuable Pompeii is as an archaeological site — it’s been studied for centuries, and it still continues to surprise through its excellently preserved artifacts. No doubt, this is not the last time we’ve heard from Pompeii.

The passage of Roman carts eventually led to ruts in the road, as seen above. Credit: Eric Poehler.

Ancient Romans used molten iron to repair their stone-paved roads

The passage of Roman carts eventually led to ruts in the road, as seen above. Credit: Eric Poehler.

The passage of Roman carts eventually led to ruts in the road, as seen above. Credit: Eric Poehler.

The devastating eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed the city of Pompeii, killing thousands. But the deadly hot ash and lava also helped to preserve the ancient city and the remains of its inhabitants. In a new study, archeologists uncovered a previously unknown method of Roman street repair, which involved pouring molten iron over deep ruts in the road.

Potholes: an ancient problem

For centuries, one of Rome’s greatest advantages over its enemies was its huge and intricate network of stone-paved roads. From the Firth of Forth in Scotland to inland North Africa remains of these iconic landmarks have survived to this day — and in some cases even formed the basis for certain modern roads today.

All Roman roads were built by the Roman military, which employed various specialists for this occasion. According to Paternus, a Roman senator in the 3rd century AD, the first thing that legionaries would do when they were tasked with building a Roman road on behalf of the new governor or the procurator would be to use ‘agrimensores’. These were land surveyors who did all the surveying using measuring equipment to lay out the route of the road. Then, ‘liberators’ or land levelers would level the land that the road was going to be built on, followed by ‘Mensores’, or quantity measurers who would then measure out all the various quantities of the various stages of building the Roman road.

Roman road works were really sophisticated, and their maintenance was no different, as we’ve learned from a new study published in the American Journal of Archaeology. During a 2014 survey of Pompeii’s streets, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Texas at Austin were surprised when they consistently found iron between and below paving stones of the city’s most important streets.

“Recent research on the costs of paving stone streets in terms of time, money, and opportunity provides the economic context for this novel repair process and shows the use of iron and iron slag to have been an expedient alternative,” the authors wrote in their study.

Like other major towns, most of Pompeii’s streets were paved with stone. However, the passage of carts on a daily basis eroded the stones, forming deep holes and ruts which are still easily visible to this day. In fact, over a century and a half ago, the American satirist Mark Twain based his complaints about the corruption of city officials at Pompeii on these cavities:

“Have I not seen with my own eyes how for two hundred years at least the pavements were not repaired! – how ruts five and even ten inches deep were worn into the thick flagstones by the chariot-wheels of generations of swindled tax-payers? … I wish I knew the name of the last one that held office in Pompeii so that I could give him a blast. I speak with feeling on this subject, because I caught my foot in one of those ruts, and the sadness that came over me when I saw the first poor skeleton, with ashes and lava sticking to it, was tempered by the reflection that may be that party was the Street Commissioner,” he wrote.

Although the Romans were quite advanced in their public works (and corruption was indeed a problem in Roman society), Twain was perhaps not aware of how complicated road repair during that time could be. Repaving the street was out of the question in most situations — it was simply too expensive and time-consuming. If a narrow street was damaged, traffic could be blocked for months until specialists finished repaving the street.

Examples of iron fillings and drops on Pomepii's ancient stone-paved streets. Credit: Eric Poehler.

Examples of iron fillings and drops on Pomepii’s ancient stone-paved streets. Credit: Eric Poehler.

In Pompeii, at least, the Romans devised a creative solution to their problem. The city’s engineers heated iron to a molten state, then poured the material onto, into, and below the eroded paving stones. Hundreds of individual street repairs were discovered thus far in the city.

The molten iron was poured alongside other filler materials such as stone, grounded terracotta, and ceramics. Once the metal cooled down, the whole mash solidified to completely fill and cover holes. According to the archaeologists, this method was much cheaper and quicker than repaving a street.

It’s not exactly clear how the Romans carried out such repairs, but the researchers have some clues. We know that the iron would have needed to heat to about 1,600ºC (2,912ºF), a temperature which Roman furnaces could accommodate. Iron drops were found on sections of the street that didn’t require repair, suggesting that it was accidentally spilled while being carried, a task likely reserved for slaves.

In the future, the researchers hope to analyze the chemical composition of the iron from the street filings to find its source. They would also like to survey more Pompeii streets.

Fresco of Narcissus found hidden in Pompeii behind layers of ash.

Archaeologists find extraordinarily well-preserved Pompeii fresco of Narcissus

Fresco of Narcissus found hidden in Pompeii behind layers of ash.

Fresco of Narcissus found hidden in Pompeii behind layers of ash. Credit: Pompeii sites.

About 2,000 years ago, a wealthy Roman adorned his Pompeii villa with frescos depicting scenes from Greek mythology. Like countless other homes, the establishment was buried by ash and ejecta when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Thousands of people and animals tragically met their death in the ensuing onslaught. However, the destructive force of Vesuvius also acted as an extraordinary medium that preserved remains, artifacts, and even some of these frescos.

Recently, Italian archaeologists revealed to the public one such striking artwork showing Narcissus reclining by a pool, his reflection staring back. Standing nearby is a winged figure who might be Eros, the Greek god of love, while a dog tugs Narcissus’ garment in a vain effort to pull him away. The fresco is extraordinarily well preserved given the circumstances and the colors are still remarkably vivid.

The lovely fresco was found adorning the walls of an atrium, which was the center of a house’s social and political life. This is where the head of the household would receive guests or clients for business appointments. Given that the atrium was a sort of waiting room where guests would spend a lot of time, it would typically receive the most attention and funds in the entire house. The more important and wealthier the head of the house was, the more lavish and well appointed with decoration the atrium would be.

Illustration of an atrium. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration of an atrium. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Inside the same house, archaeologists previously excavated a bedroom with a fresco depicting the rape of Leda by the god Zeus, a myth also known as Leda and the swan. This initial discovery prompted the excavation team led by Alfonsina Russo to dedicate more attention to the house, eventually leading to the discovery of the exquisite Narcissus fresco.

“The beauty of these rooms, which the initial discoveries had already made evident, has led us to modify the project and continue the excavation to bring the Leda room, and atrium behind, to light,” Russo said in a statement.

Archaeologists admire fresco of Ledo and the swan. Credit: Pompeii Sites.

Archaeologists admire fresco of Leda and the swan. Credit: Pompeii Sites.

Even the entrance hall was carefully arranged, welcoming guests with the vigorous and auspicious image of Priapus, a minor Greek god of fertility and a protector of gardens, fruit plants, livestock, and male genitals. Elsewhere in the house, archaeologists found depictions of cupids, maenads, and satyrs.

“The extraordinary discoveries of this site continue,” said Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist who worked at the site. “The scene of the myth of Narcissus, well known and present elsewhere at Pompeii, is presented in the atrium of the house. The entire room is pervaded by the theme of the joy of living, of beauty and of vanity, which is further underlined by the figures of maenads and satyrs who accompanied visitors inside the public part of the house, as though part of a Dionysian retinue. This decoration was intentionally luxurious, and probably dated to the last years of the colony, as indicated by the extraordinary preservation state of the colours.”

Credit: Pompeii Sites.

Credit: Pompeii Sites.

Credit: Pompeii Sites.

Credit: Pompeii Sites.

Greek myths were in vogue around the time this Roman house was built, thanks to works of the poet Ovid. The tale of Narcissus told by Ovid suffered some important alterations from the original Greek myth. According to Ovid, Narcissus was a young boy of extraordinary physical beauty. Once, when Narcissus was walking in the woods, the Nymph Echo saw him and instantly fell madly in love with the boy. She started following the handsome Narcissus, who, feeling someone was after him, asked: “who’s there.” Echo replied with the same words, “who’s there”, and this same exchange went on for some time until the nymph finally showed herself. She tried to embrace the boy, but Narcissus pushed her away. Heartbroken, Echo spent the rest of her days in misery, until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Learning of the story, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, punished Narcissus. When Narcissus saw his reflection in the pond, he was amazed by his own beauty. He fell in love with himself but seeing how he is never unable to touch his reflection, he too, like Echo, fades away.

The excavation at is part of a broader excavation overseen by the Great Pompeii Project, which covers a perimeter which runs 3km along the unexcavated area of Pompeii. More striking findings like this will likely surface in the future.

Credit: PLOS One.

Ancient Vesuvius eruption was so intense it cracked Roman skulls and boiled Roman brains

Credit: PLOS One.

Credit: PLOS One.

When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it destroyed the flourishing Roman city of Pompeii and other surrounding towns, killing thousands. Death came in a number of different ways, from fatal fractures induced by shaken ruble and toppled buildings to asphyxiation from the noxious gases released by the volcano. And according to a new paper, some victims met the fury of Vesuvius first hand, becoming engulfed by flows of hot ash and lava fragments. The heat was so intense that the thermal shock was enough to crack open the victims’ skulls and boil their brains, Italian researchers claim.

Not forgotten

A few days before the volcano erupted in all its might, Vesuvius caused a series of earthquakes that toppled structures, claiming the first victims. Recognizing the signs of impending doom, many inhabitants from Pompeii and the smaller settlements Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Oplontis, wisely fled the incoming onslaught. Not all of them, however — by some estimates, 2,000 people died by the time Vesuvius spewed its last plumes.

The victims stayed buried beneath pumice and ash, all but forgotten for nearly 1,500 years. That all changed in 1738 when archaeologists rediscovered Pompeii, recognizing that the soft ashes on the site were actually cavities left from the dead. Today, the images of Pompeii’s contrived bodies of men, women, and children are famous around the world.

But there’s still much we don’t know about their final days, despite many years of research.

The skeletons of a child (left) and adult male (right) from Herculaneum, whose frozen postures suggest they died instantly. Credit: PLOS One.

The skeletons of a child (left) and adult male (right) from Herculaneum, whose frozen postures suggest they died instantly. Credit: PLOS One.

In a new study, Italian archaeologists paint a richer picture of the horrors beckoned by Vesuvius. The researchers at the Federico II University Hospital in Naples analyzed the remains of victims from Herculaneum, which, like Pompeii, was covered in ash and soot. Herculaneum, however, rests near the foot of Vesuvius, much closer to the epicenter of destruction.

Seeking to flee away from danger, around 140 people sought shelter in houseboats at the town’s beach. However, none survived and the victims were covered in an avalanche of ache, which preserved their skeletons still in their final death pose. Following the archaeological’s site discovery in the 1980s, scientists concluded that the victims died by asphyxiation after ash smothered their shelters. But the new analysis suggests that the ancient Herculaneum locals were actually killed by heat.

The team argues that the victims were overrun by pyroclastic flows of hot ash and lava fragments that could be as hot as 300°C (572°F). Red and black residues found on the skulls and other bones contain unusual amounts of iron, a chemical analysis revealed — this may be superboiled blood and other bodily fluids. Also, many of the bones recovered from the site are fractured, which would be expected in a thermal shock event. This may explain why skullcaps belonging to many skeletons showed evidence of “cracking and explosion”. The circular patterns on the skulls also suggest that brain matter was expelled.

“The extraordinarily rare preservation of significant putative evidence of hemoprotein thermal degradation from the eruption victims strongly suggests the rapid vaporization of body fluids and soft tissues of people at death due to exposure to extreme heat,” the authors wrote in the study’s abstract.

Strikingly, the findings suggest that over a hundred people met their end horribly, practically getting boiled alive. But perhaps their finals days were less horrible since death came in an instant, which we can’t say about Vesuvius’ asphyxiated victims.

“These findings highlight the need for thorough evaluation of key bioanthropological and taphonomic evidence during archaeological investigations. This is particularly true for the sites affected by the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption, given the high-risk scenario for three million people living today close to the volcano, even if sheltered within buildings,” the team of Italian archaeologists concluded.

The findings were reported in the journal PLOS One.

Comparison between the graphic source used for reconstructing the peristylium and the 3d model. Credit: Lund University

What the villa of a wealthy roman from Pompeii looked like before it was buried by ash

Comparison between the graphic source used for reconstructing the peristylium and the 3d model. Credit: Lund University

Comparison between the graphic source used for reconstructing the peristylium and the 3D model. Credit: Lund University

Since the year 2000, Swedish researchers have been working with Italian authorities to map and reconstruct the ancient Roman settlement of Pompeii which was obliterated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Using advanced digital archaeology, the team from Lund University, Sweden, made 3D models of the ruined city offering a glimpse of how it must have looked like in its heyday.

Among the fully reconstructed city district is also the villa of a wealthy man called Caecilius Iucundus, interior included. The video below shows the splendour of Iucundus’ villa before all hell broke loose.

The Swedish Pompeii Project analyzed then reconstructed an entire Pompeian city-block, Insula V 1. To this aim, onsite archaeologists excavated the site until they found the floors of the buildings. Later, laser scanning was used to map and later model the district.

[button url=”http://www.pompejiprojektet.se/modelmeasuring.php” postid=”” style=”btn-info” size=”btn-lg” target=”_blank” fullwidth=”false”]Examine the 3D models of the Insula.[/button]

Among the most notable buildings they identified and reconstructed were three large wealthy estates, a tavern, a laundry, a bakery and several gardens.

Researchers also studied how the urban planning of the district evolved in time. For instance, the water and sewer system revealed the social hierarchies at the time. Many retailers and restaurants had been dependent on the neighbouring wealthy families whose villas supplied water from their reservoirs. Towards the end, before the eruption, conditions improved, though, as an aqueduct was built in Pompeii.

“By combining new technology with more traditional methods, we can describe Pompeii in greater detail and more accurately than was previously possible,” says Nicoló Dell´Unto, digital archaeologist at Lund University.

Ref:  Emanuel Demetrescu, Daniele Ferdani, Nicolò Dell’Unto, Anne-Marie Leander Touati, Stefan Lindgren. Reconstructing the Original Splendour of the House of Caecilius Iucundus. A Complete Methodology for Virtual Archaeology Aimed at Digital Exhibition. Scires It, October 2016 DOI: 10.2423/i22394303v6n1p51

X-Ray Technique Reveals Charred Scrolls From Vesuvius Eruption

Using a new X-Ray technique, archaeologists may be able to read the words from the charred, rolled up scrolls that survived the Vesuvius eruption that wiped out the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum nearly 2000 years ago. This could open up a new window to the past, revealing much information about the way the Romans lived and is a spectacular technological achievement in itself.

Charred scrolls from Herculaneum. Credit Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press.

“Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls”, the research writes.

In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted in one of the most catastrophic and infamous eruptions in history, wiping out two thriving Roman cities. The volcano sent fumes up to a height of 33 kilometres (21 mi), ejecting molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second. Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely obliterated. A thousand bodies have been found by archaeologists, but the number of victims is certainly much higher.

Along with the lives and buldings which were claimed, a lot of information was lost as well. Most of the papyri were burned, while others were not burned, but charred beyond recognition. Ironically, even though lava engulfed Pompeii and destroyed pretty much everything from the city, Herculaneum was destroyed by a mix of superhot gases and ash. While this didn’t make much of a difference for the city’s inhabitants, it helped partially preserve some scrolls. When scholars of the 1700s, tried to decipher their secrets, even more damage was caused. But now, a new technique described in the journal Nature gives hope to researchers who have until now been unable to read these delicate scrolls.

The charred remains of the rolled papyrus scroll from Herculaneum. Photograph: E Brun

They want to study the scrolls from a library which includes the works from Greek and Roman authors, such as the lost books of Livy’s history of Rome. Researchers led by Vito Mocella, of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Naples, Italy used a laserlike beam of X-rays from the European Synchrotron in Grenoble, France, With this, they were able to pick up slight contrasts between the papyrus fibers and the ancient ink. They tested this technique several times and it worked quite fine, and now the team is working on ways to refine it. While they did figure out some letters and words, it will be quite a while before these works hit the bookshelves.

 

“At least we know there are techniques able to read inside the papyri, finally,” Dr. Mocella said in an interview. His team is considering several ways to refine the power of their technique. “If the technology is perfected, it will be a real leap forward,” said Richard Janko, a classical scholar at the University of Michigan who has translated some of the few scrolls that can be read.

Scientists believe that the author of the scrolls they studied is the philosopher and poet Philodemus. However, there are some limits to what this technique can do. The papyri are so damaged that some of the writing has actually been distorted beyond the point of recognition, and without actually opening them, you can only read a part of the scroll. So far, researchers have been able to  make up the words for “would fall” and “would say” in one parchment, and some individual letters in another one. It may not seem like much, but it’s a great start.

The remains of Pompeii. Image via Passport Files.

“This pioneering research opens up new prospects not only for the many papyri still unopened, but also for others that have not yet been discovered, perhaps including a second library of Latin papyri at a lower, as yet unexcavated level of the Villa,” the study authors wrote.

Journal Reference: Vito Mocella, Emmanuel Brun, Claudio Ferrero & Daniel Delattre. Revealing letters in rolled Herculaneum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 5895 doi:10.1038/ncomms6895