The Digital Restoration of Herculaneum Papyri

Grants and Contracts Details


As the only Classical library from antiquity to have survived and been found in situ, the Herculaneum papyrus scrolls hold much interest for both scholars and the public worldwide. Given the scrolls�f importance as Classical artifacts and the timeless, global interest in their contents (evidenced by often disastrous efforts over the years to open and read them--see Sider, 2005, p. 48; Janko, 2016), an open-access, electronic compilation of all Herculaneum papyri, including those that remain unopened and unread, would obviously be of great benefit. A digital, web-based catalog containing hyperlinks to full descriptions, images, and scholarly work on each papyrus would not only aid those engaged in the scholarly study of the papryi, but would also satisfy individuals who simply want to learn more about ancient Greek and Roman culture. Over the years, disparate experts and organizations have created various print and electronic inventories (Janko, 2016; Litta,1977; Gigante, 1979; Capasso, 1999; Del Maestro, 2000 & 2005; Longo, 2008), thus making some progress toward this goal. However, a truly comprehensive catalog remains elusive due to the fragmented and distributed nature of the collection. With thousands of individual items in the form of pieces, chunks, and rolls scattered among four different institutions in three countries, the Herculaneum papyri are, by their very nature, resistant to collation. Thankfully, new technologies are making it easier than ever to link items from various institutions, render difficult-to-see text more clearly, and even open the still rolled, unread scrolls for scholarship. This grant will support such digital restoration, electronic representation, and computer-based open-source dissemination of the collection of Herculaneum Papyri currently held by four institutions: �- The Bodleian Library at Oxford University: four scrolls, one of which was opened and consists of twelve multi-piece fragments; �- The British Library: seven scrolls, two of which were opened and consist of 11 trays of multi-piece fragments; - The Institut de France: six scrolls, four of which were opened and consist of approximately 30 trays of small fragments; �- The Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli: approximately 3,400 trays of opened fragments and hundreds of partially-opened and intact scrolls. This project�'s final outcomes will be twofold: first, we will create an open-access, metadata-enhanced, digital representation of all opened Herculaneum Papyri from all four institutions; second, we will digitally restore and read the hidden layers and unopened Herculaneum papyrus rolls using authentic materials from the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples and the Institut de France in Paris. The funds we request will support the following activities: �- Staff support for managing, capturing, and processing digital imaging (multispectral, photogrammetry, and micro-CT) of the papyri. �- Staff support for software development and enhancement of key digital restoration, representation, and dissemination activities; and for implementation of software workflow. �- Staff support to negotiate, write, and administer contracts and agreements with institutional and interdisciplinary academic partners, as well as to manage the collaborative process among computer scientists, papyrologists/Classicists, physicists, media representatives, and the various imaging facilities and institutions involved. �- Staff support at UK and the Biblioteca Nazionale for metadata and catalog development. �- Travel costs for collaborative work on site at the custodial libraries and at various imaging facilities. �- Equipment costs for hardware to perform multi-spectral imaging and photogrammetry. �- Facility access fees to secure necessary micro-CT scan time. �- Infrastructure development funds for the Biblioteca Nazionale. Progress toward a long-awaited, complete digital compilation of Herculaneum materials will be a significant achievement of this project. Yet the long-term benefits lie in the application of non-invasive, non-destructive technological approaches capable of revealing writing hidden within the intact scrolls from Herculaneum, allowing them to be finally visualized, read, and studied. By digitally restoring and reading these texts, which are arguably the most challenging to decipher due to the tightly compressed layers of carbonized, carbon-inked papyrus, this project will forge a pathway for revealing any type of ink on any type of substrate in any type of damaged cultural artifact.
Effective start/end date3/20/199/10/19


  • Andrew W Mellon Foundation: $2,002,055.00


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