The 2,000-year mystery under the Vesuvius volcanic ash

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is one of the most famous volcanic disasters in history, burying the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under layers of ash and pumice. While archaeologists have been excavating these cities for centuries, there is still much to discover about life in the region before the eruption.

One of the most intriguing mysteries is the Villa of the Papyri, a lavish estate believed to have belonged to the Roman statesman Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. The villa was located in the town of Herculaneum, and its library contained thousands of scrolls of papyrus, making it one of the largest collections of ancient literature ever discovered.

The villa was buried under 20 meters of volcanic material during the eruption of Vesuvius, and it remained hidden for centuries until its discovery in the 18th century. The library of the villa, however, remained largely unexplored until the 21st century, when modern technology allowed researchers to scan the fragile papyri without damaging them.

In recent years, scientists have used X-ray phase-contrast tomography to scan some of the papyri from the Villa of the Papyri, revealing the text inside without opening the scrolls. They have discovered that the collection includes works by Greek philosophers such as Epicurus and Philodemus, as well as Latin authors like Virgil and Cicero.

The scans have also revealed that some of the papyri are still rolled up tightly, suggesting that there may be even more texts waiting to be discovered. This has led to renewed interest in the Villa of the Papyri, and researchers hope that future advancements in technology will allow them to unravel more of the ancient texts hidden under the volcanic ash.