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Scanning an Ancient Biblical Text That Humans Fear to Open


The ancient Coptic codex being scanned by X-rays.

Researchers hope to make a damaged Coptic codex readable by scanning it with computerized tomography, and then using software to extract legible text.

Credit: Nicole Craine/The New York Times

Researchers hope to make an ancient Coptic codex, which had been deemed too fragile and damaged for scholars to open without destroying it, readable by first scanning it with computerized tomography (CT) and then using software to extract legible text.

Developed by University of Kentucky professor W. Brent Seales, the software simulates the surface of a misshapen piece of papyrus or parchment from x-ray data and then assigns letters to their proper surface so the text is readable.

Seales says his method "can turn things thought to be of no value into precious objects."

The CT scans of the charred codex parchment, which dates to between 400 and 600 A.D., were completed in December, and the research team plans to start producing readable pages later this month.

Project collaborator Paul C. Dilley at the University of Iowa believes such techniques could potentially be applied to many more damaged codices throughout the world.

From The New York Times
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