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FW: MSI of Oxy papyri

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  • Wieland Willker
    Finally an explanation on the Independent article, from the PAPY mailing list: From: Dirk Obbink (by way of Adam
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 21, 2005
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      Finally an explanation on the Independent article, from the PAPY mailing

      From: Dirk Obbink <dirk.obbink@...> (by way of Adam
      Subject: MSI of Oxy papyri

      Like other collections we do not normally announce our findings in
      advance of publication. In this case a team from ISPART (formerly CPART)
      at Brigham Young University in Utah spent last week creating MSI images
      (that is, at all ranges of the light band) of papyri in Oxford as part
      of a project begun in 2002. We scanned portions of the unrolled
      Herculaneum papyrus in the Bodleian Library and experimented on
      problematic carbonised and non-carbonised samples in the Oxyrhynchus
      collection in the Sackler Library (including documents), some of them
      for final checks in texts scheduled for publication in the next two
      volumes of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The results, which are still under
      analysis, and on some of which I am reporting this week at the Center
      for the Study of the Tebtunis Papyri in Berkeley and on 16 May in
      Oxford, were of mixed success, revealing many new readings and
      confirmation of uncertain readings in some problem areas, none at all in
      others, depending on settings and surface type. In some ranges and
      surfaces even less writing could be read than with the eye or none at
      all. As usual with the Oxy. papyri a number of new identifications
      emerged of literary and documentary texts not previously made by the
      usual means, together with the isolation of four or five different types
      of surface and obscurity that respond well or not well to the BYU
      process. This process, perfected on the Herculaneum papyri since 1999
      (similar to that described by Steven Booras in Cronache Ercolanesi and
      Nigel Wilson in his shortly to appear articles on the Vatican Menander
      palimpsest in the Journal of the Walters Art Museum and the proceedings
      of Rinacimento Virtuale), captures rapidly a series of high-definition
      digital images at different ranges of the light spectrum by means of an
      automated, rotating wheel containing c.15 filtres and passing these in
      successing before the camera's lens. The process seemed to work best on
      darkened, charred, or stained surfaces, and can image through some
      surface materials, but sees nothing through mud, clay, or silt. It
      produced excellent results on palimpsests, cancellations and damnationes
      memoriae, and on disintegrating surfaces where the ink has settled deep
      into the fibres. It was least successful on surfaces that were partially
      or entirely washed out. On abraded and uneven surfaces the camera's long
      depth of field elides differences in levels and aids reading by
      eliminating all shadows and levelling so that all writing appears
      well-defined as though on a single layer. Darkened surfaces tended to
      respond best deep in the infra-red end of the wave-band (c.800-1000
      nanometers), but not exclusively so: each papyrus and surface (and
      sometimes parts of each) responds best (i.e. with maximum reflectivity,
      contrast, and definition, so that background noise is eliminated) at a
      completely different point (which must be located) in the spectrum,
      including some in the ultra-violet range. Surprisingly, in one trial the
      process successfully imaged through painted gesso, revealing a
      previously unknown document (report to a strategos) on the papyrus
      cartonage surface underneath.

      The London press got wind of this (the unrolled Herculaneum papyrus of
      Epicurus' Peri physeos in the British Library is being done this week)
      and reported enthusiastically, if selectively. No mention, for example,
      was made of the success on the Bodleian Herculaneum papyrus (P.Herc.
      118), now thereby revealed to be a Peri Epikourou or at any rate a
      pre-Philodemean history of the school. The article certainly should not
      have said (if it did) that all the papyri had been discovered yesterday,
      only that we made significant (and sufficiently exciting) advances in
      reading and confirmation of identifications with some, the same with
      some other pieces, while still others were identified for the first
      time, some standard classical authors, as usual, while others remain
      complete mysteries. Readings from some identified from earlier
      multi-spectral trials since 2002 were refined. The Oxyrhynchus texts
      will be published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, beginning with the next
      volume (LXIX), still scheduled for publication next month. An article on
      the technical aspects is planned for Scientific American.

      I am happy to answer questions off-list.
      Dirk Obbink

      Best wishes
      Wieland Willker, Bremen, Germany
      Textcritical commentary:
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