From invisibility to readability: Recovering the ink of Herculaneum

Clifford Seth Parker, Stephen Parsons, Jack Bandy, Christy Chapman, Frederik Coppens, William Brent Seales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

The noninvasive digital restoration of ancient texts written in carbon black ink and hidden inside artifacts has proven elusive, even with advanced imaging techniques like x-ray-based micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). This paper identifies a crucial mistaken assumption: that micro-CT data fails to capture any information representing the presence of carbon ink. Instead, we show new experiments indicating a subtle but detectable signature from carbon ink in micro-CT. We demonstrate a new computational approach that captures, enhances, and makes visible the characteristic signature created by carbon ink in micro-CT. This previously “unseen” evidence of carbon inks, which can now successfully be made visible, is a discovery that can lead directly to the noninvasive digital recovery of the lost texts of Herculaneum.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0215775
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume14
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
W.B.S. acknowledges funding from the National Science Foundation (award IIS-1422039), Google, Lee and Stacie Marksbury, and John and Karen Maxwell. Funders did not have any role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors acknowledge a commercial affiliation with Bruker Micro-CT. The funder provided support in the form of salaries for author F.C. but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific role of this author is articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section. We thank the University of Kentucky’s Center for Computational Sciences and Information Technology Services Research Computing for use of the Lipscomb Computing Cluster resources. Access to SEM/EDS characterization instruments and staff assistance was provided by the Electron Microscopy Center at the University of Kentucky, supported in part by the National Science Foundation/EPSCoR Award No. 1355438 and by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. We thank Michael Drakopoulos and Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, UK, as well as the Library of the Institut de France. W.B.S. acknowledges funding from the NSF (award IIS-1422039). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. W.B.S. acknowledges funding from Google, Lee and Stacie Marksbury, and John and Karen Maxwell.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Parker et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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