Sight Unseen: New Tech and Old Texts

History has inflicted many wounds on written culture, from the destruction of the libraries at Alexandria, Constantinople, and Ctesiphon to the work of modern book-burners. Humans treasure their literary heritage, which is why the discoveries of books long thought lost occasion so much interest and celebration.  Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky, helps scholars to uncover such books through the use of revolutionary, custom-built imaging technology. His recent work on the Herculaneum scrolls, a collection of badly damaged Latin and Greek papyri, might well lead to major new finds. Here, he discusses how he got into the field of antiquities and where he sees the richest potential for its future lying.

The sole intact library we moderns have inherited from antiquity comprises a collection of papyri recovered from a villa thought to belong the Roman consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. This aristocrat’s house stood in Herculaneum, a town near …

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