The Odyssey of Artifacts: Unraveling the Herculaneum Scrolls

On January 20th, 2015 the New York Times published an exciting development in the research of the Herculaneum library’s carbonized papyrus scrolls. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius that decimated Pompeii in A.D. 79 also impacted Herculaneum. The super hot gases and ash from the eruption preserved the papyrus documents. Since their excavation in 1752, researchers have been trying to find a way to read the scrolls. This goal is finally becoming reality thanks to the work of Dr. Vito Mocella and his team at the  Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems. With the use of a laser-like beam of X-rays they are able to pick up the very slight contrast between the carbonized papyrus fibers and the ancient ink. Today the Indy Team is pleased to have Dr. Vito Mocella and Dr. Richard Janko join us to talk about the the scrolls and their proverbial unraveling and translation.

_71859611_rs4152_img_0787_624 (photo credit BBC)


Vito Mocella graduated (Laurea) in Electronic Engineering at the “Federico II” University of Naples in 1995, in 1999 he got the French Ph.D (Doctorat) in Physics working at European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), Grenoble, France. From 1999 to 2001 he worked with Optics Group of ESRF and with SRI-CAT Group of the Advanced Photon Source, Argonne Illinois (USA). In 2002 he joined the National Council of Research (CNR) in Naples working on photonic crystal and metamaterials in particular on negative refraction based effects and devices. In november 2006 he has been nominated Cavaliere all’Ordine del Merito della Repubblica from the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano .






Dr. Richard Janko is a professor of classics at the University of Michigan. He earned a Ph.D. in Classics at the University of Cambridge in 1980, where he studied under John Chadwick, co-decipherer of the earliest Greek writings in the Linear B script. His fields of interest include Homer, Linear B, Aegean Bronze Age archaeology, Herculaneum papyri, ancient literary theory, ancient religion, and aspects of Presocratic philosophy.

At university his fascination with Homer inspired him not only to study classics, but archaeology as well. Specifically, he took courses in Aegean Bronze Age archaeology, Linear B, classical philology, and historical linguistics. In the summers he took part in excavations in Greece, at Ayios Stephanos and Mycenae under the direction of Lord William Taylour, and at Koukounaries on the island of Paros. He took over the publication of the final site report on the excavations at Ayios Stephanos, a village in Southern Greece that was inhabited throughout the Bronze Age, and succeeded in bringing it out in 2008.

He has held many prestigious positions. He started out at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1982 he took an Assistant Professorship in Classics at Columbia University in New York.  He taught at UCLA and University College London before returning to the U.S. to join the University of Michigan as the Gerald F. Else Distinguished University Professor of Classical Studies.

His current research project is to reconstruct, transcribe, and translate a scroll from Herculaneum that was 53 feet long and contains a book by Philodemus, the teacher of Vergil.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s