X-ray-phase-contrast-tomography brings back 2000-year-old “voice” of Philodemus


Researchers from NAST Centre  discovered the largest portion of Philodemus Greek text ever detected so far inside unopened carbonized Herculaneum papyri scrolls, through a virtual unrolling and deciphering using enhanced X-ray phase-contrast tomography. Figure 1 (top) shows a 3D tomographic reconstruction of the rolled carbonized Herculaneum papyri discovered in the Roman ‘Villa dei Papiri’ at Herculaneum in the middle of 18th century.

Ancient Herculaneum-papyrus scrolls, hopelessly charred in the 79 A.D. Vesuvius eruption, contain valuable writings of the Greek philosophers of the day, including thoughts of the Epicurean Philosopher Philodemus. X-ray-phase-contrast-tomography had recently begun unlocking their secrets.

Aim of this study was to read the text hidden inside carbonized-Herculaneum-papyri, through non-destructive ‘virtual-unrolling’, using enhanced X-ray-phase-contrast-tomography and dedicated algorithms.

Results of the study revealed the largest writing of Greek texts ever detected inside unopened scrolls, with unprecedented spatial resolution and contrast.

Texts have been unequivocally decoded and, for the first time, the “voice” of Epicurean philosopher Philodemus was brought back after 2000 years.

figura 3



Figure 2. Axial view of the 3D reconstruction revealing the complex stress field of the inner part of the scroll.






Figure 3. Fragments of carbonized Herculaneum papyri





Further Information

The interdisciplinary team included researcher from NAST Centre, CNR-NanoTec (coordinator), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, Museo Storico della Fisica e Centro Studi e Ricerche Enrico Fermi, Università della Calabria, Interdisciplinary Center B. Segre Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei applied X-ray tomography to the study of rolled carbonized Herculaneum papyri’


I. Bukreeva, A. Mittone, A. Bravin, G. Festa, M. Alessandrelli, P. Coan, V. Formoso, R. G. Agostino, M. Giocondo, F. Ciuchi, M. Fratini, L. Massimi, A. Lamarra, C. Andreani, R. Bartolino, G. Gigli, G. Ranocchia, A. Cedola, ‘Enhanced X-ray-phase-contrast-tomography brings new clarity to the 2000-year-old “voiceof Epicurean philosopher Philodemus’, Scientific Reports 6:27227 | DOI: 10.1038/srep27227 (2016)

Related Links

University of Tor Vergata

Research date: July 2016