Out of the Ashes: Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum (2003)
in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, a library of ancient scrolls is preserved when it is burned and buried by the volcanic eruption of 79 AD. The volcano gave us the papyri, that's certain. The only library ever recovered from antiquity comes to light in a new day. The fact that they found 1,800 rolls of papyri from one villa in Herculanum is absolutely staggering. From within these charred pages, scholars hope to recapture life in the days of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It is a race against time and deterioration. We're losing pieces of them all the time. 250 years after the scrolls were found, can new technologies help to read the
blackened pages?We have the application of space-age technology applied to texts that have not been available for 2,000 years. And is there another library still buried at Herculaneum? At the National Library in Naples, Italy, scholars read from the pages of history's most fragile ancient library, scraps of papyri transported through time by an unlikely set of circumstances. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD burned and buried nearly 2,000 papyrus rolls. The carbonization preserved the scrolls when they would have otherwise turned to dust. So this whole process preserved them for us. If they hadn't been burnt in this way then they would have just rotted away. I am a friend of Vesuvius because Vesuvius, with the eruption of 79 AD, has conserved this papyrus. More than two centuries after they were first discovered, many scrolls have yet to
be unrolled or read. Only from the Villa de Papyri do we find these entire rolls. The problem is we don't know fully how to unroll them when they're completely carbonized and blackened. From more than 10,000 scattered and charred fragments, scholars work to recover the lost writings of classical philosophers and new perspectives on two ancient cities silenced by Vesuvius.
In the ancient world the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum reach their peak in the thriving Roman Empire. Both cities are located between the Bay of Naples and the fertile foot of Mount Vesuvius. Their archaeological remains provide a rare glimpse into the lives of both the rich and the commoner in the first century. One of the really significant things we get from Pompeii and Herculaneum is a pair of cities preserved in time, snapshots. So we learn exactly what the living conditions were like for people in the First Century AD. In Pompeii you can see private
houses very vividly and I think people relate very closely to that because they can imagine what was life like for a family in antiquity. They were nice places even the houses of bakers and fullers and people that we would think are quite lower- middle-class, who had been given a chance to enjoy themselves by the wonderful kind of first try at modern civilization that was the Roman Empire. While they are sister cities Pompeii and Herculaneum have distinctive personalities. The largest city, Pompeii, is a busy commercial center. Herculanum is located closer to Mount Vesuvius than is Pompeii. The pace of this seaside community is more subdued. It is one of the most beautiful towns on the Bay of Naples. Herculanum was very different from Pompeii. It was a seaside
town, it was something of a port therefore, but it always had a somewhat more cultured air to it. It was in touch with the intellectual life of the day to a greater extent than Pompeii. Herculaneum is a very small city, but also a very refined one especially regarding the villas, and consequently at Herculaneum, we see houses, pictures ,and sculptures that are more beautiful and rich than those that we see at Pompeii. Many of Rome's rich and powerful citizens have properties here. One spectacular villa is owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, a politician named Lucius Calpurnius Piso. He was consul in 58 BC, that's the most powerful
position that you can have in Rome. It's clear that whoever owned the villa was the most powerful person around. From the verana of this seaside villa, the wealthy Piso family could gaze across the Bay of Naples and enjoy a life of wealth and privilege. It's hard to realize how far above the life of the common people the great Roman nobility were raised, in what was already this incredibly rich empire, unless maybe you were to refer to such unheard of modern billionaires as Bill Gates. To judge by the decorations in the villa, he would have been extremely wealthy,
and we must remember that this was his holiday home. Two thousand years later, this collection of papyri would be the only known library to survive from antiquity. And the scrolls would miraculously endure one of the greatest natural disasters ever recorded: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The horror of an August day in 79 ad is forever etched in the faces of the victims of Veusivius. As the volcano explodes around midday, a witness records the scene as a dark cloud of ash stretches across the sky. And Pliny observed this strange mottled cloud and this was the start of the eruption. Archaeology shows us what was actually going on in the cities at
the foot of Vesuvius and there it was absolutely dire. In the town of Pompeii, the town was being covered by ash and pumice. You can reconstruct in minute by minute detail their deaths, which were absolutely horrific. There is this long rain, the rain of ash comes down for at least 12 hours,
and it must be very choking but it doesn't actually kill people. And they're all trying to find strategies for survival. Some of them get out of the city. Some of them hide. People were choking and so on, but they were mostly able to escape. It was only the greedy ones who wanted to go back for their money and their valuables who tended to succumb. Because of their locations,
the victims of Pompeii and Herculaneum meet very different ends. Pompeii is blanketed with falling ash. The ash conforms perfectly to its victims preserving a nightmarish imprint of their deaths. Herculanum's victims are enveloped by a cloud of gas then skeletonized by a flow of hot mud. At a certain point, the volcano released a cloud of superheated gas and steam which the volcanologists call a pyroclastic flow. This terribly hot mud mixed with gas heated to around 325° Celsius, that's three times above boiling point, came down and overwhelmed everything in Herculaneum, burying it in a depth probably of 70 ft. For many years it was thought that all of Herculaneum's residents had escaped, but in the 1980s hundreds of skeletons were found clustered near the shore.
Certainly people were trying to escape from Herculaneum by boat. Near the shoreline hundreds of skeletons were found. So they they didn't get out quickly enough and and then came the pyroclastic flow and there's no getting away from that. It must have been a terrible end. The city of Herculaneum would remain buried for 1700 years, its location forgotten as the modern city of Ercolano is built above the site. But in 1709, a chance discovery reveals this perfectly preserved ancient city buried under volcanic materia. The original discovery of the town of Herculaneum was made when someone was digging a well, and they dug a well, and at the bottom there was a statue. So this encouraged excavation, and it was done by tunneling. The
tunnels they were working in were only wide enough for one person and just tall enough to walk under. They're following like moles these deep trenches along the foundations of the ancient buildings and extracting sculpture and other precious items as they go. By today's standards, the first excavations are not very scientific. Workers tunnel into the city and hunt for precious objects. The immediate object of the excavations really was a treasure hunt. Charles of Bourbon was most interested in the kinds of materials that he would then come to display in the Royal Museum. The treasures from Herculaneum would fill the royal museums. The discoveries here, and later
at Pompeii, would attract international attention and turn Naples into a prime tourist destination. People were realizing that these were some fundamental places that showed how the ancients lived. This large firsthand discovery of an entire city really brought it home to people. The archaeological discoveries would have long lasting impact on art and culture worldwide but no find would attract more attention than the villa owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso. The Villa de Papyri turned out to have a extraordinary treasure trove of bronze sculpture and marble sculpture. There's never been another Roman villa discovered that had a comparable amount of sculptural decoration.
Archaeologist Karl Weber would create this floor plan drawing of the villa in 1754, even though the structure itself is still buried. He describes the vast estate as the most valuable and richest villa in the ancient world. But the single most unique discovery from villa was almost overlooked: 1,800 carbonized papyrus rolls are at first mistaken for charcoal. In 1752, they were working in the Villa
of the Papyri and discovered these very mysterious objects which appeared to be lumps of coal. They did not realize this were papyri. This is understandable because the concept of a papyrus did not exist. They saw what looked like carbonized tree branches. We even know that the first three or four papyri were burned for heat. It seems a number of them were thrown away or used perhaps as as fuel on the fire but at some point somebody realized that there was writing on the insides of these lumps and they understood that they were books. The fact that they found 1,800
rolls of papyri from from one villa in Herculaneum is absolutely staggering and of course one of our great frustrations is that we cannot get back to ancient libraries. We can get back to Medieval libraries, because medieval documents survive, but everything from antiquity has been burnt, destroyed. The excavation supervisor notes that hundreds of scrolls are found scattered throughout the villa. He talks about bringing up a huge load of them, even too too huge to carry himself. He
describes their nature. He says they're like lumps of charcoal. But Oxford scholar Dirk Obbink says that the scrolls not only survived the heat of the Vesuvius eruption, they also were subjected to rain and other forces. Well these are papyrus rolls, that they look just like they looked when they were dug out of the ground in 1752, when they were first taken for lumps of coal. They've been smashed by the pressure of the volcanic rubble that lay on top of them. They also got wet and the rains that turned the ash into mud, that filled the buildings, which made them shrink around the edges producing a trapezoidal shape of the papyrus rather than a round cylinder. The discovery of the
library at Herculaneum would attract international attention and anticipation. The news of this incredible discovery made its way around the learned centers of Europe very very quickly, and so people had great hopes that you might find lost tragedies of the great playwrights of Greece. This was our first chance to reach directly into antiquity and try to pull something out. In Naples, King Carlos sees the scrolls as a way to boost his prestige internationally. It was good for the king's public Image to have such a treasure in his own kingdom. Anybody who came to Naples after that time wanted to know what's with the papyri, can we see them, what have you learned from them, how many have been unrolled. But for all their promise and possibility, there is one serious problem. The carbonized scrolls are so fragile that they are nearly impossible
to unroll. iIt would be years before the king's staff would successfully unroll even one. In the 18th century, the question of how to unroll the Herculaneum papyri presents a unique challenge for curators. These things were very difficult to unroll and the first procedure that was followed was was adopted by Camillo Paderni, a painter from Rome, who had a very undistinguished background as far as antiquities were concerned. Paderni had a sort of rough and ready way of opening up papyri, that is he took a knife to them. And one way which we know that he used was simply to take a large knife and cut through the papyrus rolls lengthwise, to cut them into two halves. yYou would then get two halves like this wouldn't you and and he would expose layers of writing on the inside running across, in fact scraping off the damaged layers. And he crushed all the material
in the middle and then he just emptied that out onto his workbench ,and he would continue doing that until he had got closer to the external part of the papyrus and on that layer, he could read a certain amount of continuous text, that is to say he could see a certain number of letters which seemed to follow one after the other, because he couldn't actually read Greek. Paderni was an ignorant brute, I think that's very clear, but he has the glory of having invented the technique of sawing them in half. As we're told, Paderni took for his butchery the best preserved papyri. It's really just incalculable to say what what we will have lost. Visiting scientists including the prince of come to Naples to test their own theories about unrolling the scrolls. This person thought that liquid mercury, because it seems so slippery, and doesn't seem to move with friction through anything, would be able to slip in between the rolls of the papyrus and would therefore separate them cleanly. So he constructed a big box into which a papyrus roll was stood on its end,
and he then filled the box from the top with liquid mercury. Well this seemed like a good idea at the time, but when they opened up the box again all they found was that the density of the mercury had simply pulverized the papyrus with nothing left but powder. There were other attempts made to unroll the papyri as well, often using chemical solvents. And the worst was Sir Humphrey Davy, the greatest chemist in England, who was absolutely sure that he was going to find some chemical compound that wouldn't reduce them to dust, and got as far as finding one that only broke them into fragments. He was even allowed to go to Naples in the 1820s and tried his experiments. And after he reduced about 12 more scrolls to fragments, gave up. Facing criticism from all of Europe, the king eventually enlists help from the Vatican
which responds by sending a trained conservator to Naples, but Paderni does not welcome Antonio Piaggio's arrival. Piaggio basically thought that Paderni was a butcher. He kept talking about the slaughter that he had inflicted on these papyri. Father Piaggio was much more careful, much more sophisticated in his approach, and he was the one who devised the unrolling machine with which they could finally begin to unroll these papyri. The method was that you pasted sort of very fine animal membrane on the back of the papyri and then very very gently separate the layer off that membrane serves to hold the papyrus together as it sort of crumbles away from the rest of the scroll, and is rolled upward. Once a a strip of papyrus of some length is acquired, then the person running the machine comes with a very sharp knife and cuts that piece off, lays it flat and allows it to dry.
It's a very painstaking process because you had to continually find ways of supporting the papyrus so that it wouldn't disintegrate as it came off the roll. You had to find the leading edge of the papyrus which was by no means an easy kind of thing to do. The method of unrolling the scrolls is very slow, painstaking work. The first papyrus which was unrolled took four years to unroll, proceeding at at a rate of millimeters per day. By the end of the century, only a handful of scrolls have been unrolled. Despite the slow pace of the work, the scrolls are a form of political currency for the Neapolitan monarchy. There was no no court, no individual aristocrat, I imagine,
who didn't have some interest in finding out what was involved in those texts. The queen of Naples Caroline Murat, Napoleon Bonaparte's younger sister, would sometimes present scroll fragments as diplomatic gifts. Napoleon himself receives several scrolls, which would later be unrolled and translated by French scholars. Through a series of sometimes strange trades, papyrus rolls would end up in Berlin, Copenhagen, and other European cities. One of the most interesting anecdotes told about the the trafficking in Herculaneum Papryi is the exchange, or we should say alleged exchange, of 18 kangaroos for 18 scrolls of papyrus. They were presented to the Prince Regent in the early
19th century by the King of Naples, and he gave 18 of these rolls to the Prince Regent and in return he received 18 fully grown kangaroos, so that's the exchange rate: one papyrus per kangaroo. Contemporary sources treat this incident as if it is in fact something rather scandalous. One of the sources includes the detail that the kangaroos were deformed, as if it somehow cheapens the deal. Eventually several scrolls, and an important set of drawings related to the papyri, would end up at Oxford University. In 1802 the Prince of Wales sends the Reverend John Hayter to Naples to work on the scrolls. It was the biggest piece of luck these payri ever had that this man came there, and he got fascinated with the technique of opening the papyri and opened up the 500-600 Scrolls that form the basis of our collection and our reading today. And Hayter stayed there
for a number of years and the work proceeded much more rapidly under his care. Hayter makes careful drawings of each scroll fragment as it is opened and in 1806 the army of Napoleon came and the royal family fled and Hayter fled with all his drawings he' made. There was some sort of scandal, I think. He took with him the drawings which had been made and they now reside in the Bodleian
Museum at Oxford. Today the Hayter drawings are an important resource for papyrologists because they document how the scrolls looked when they were first opened, and they're a principal resource for constructing the text because he saw lots of things that aren't there now. In the two centuries since the scrolls were found, no easy system has been developed for unrolling them. The most recent innovation, known as the Oslo method, uses special glues to stabilize the scroll fragments and minimize damage during unrolling. It involves applying a mixture of acetic acid and gelatin with brush strokes onto the outside of a scroll, and then when that dries it forms a very fragile but cohesive shell. When the shell comes off the interior layer of that piece is revealed, on which the text is recorded. The problem with doing that is every time a little bit is peeled
off, the papyrus breaks slightly and you can see a break about every centimeter or so, where they've pulled a little bit more off and then a little bit more off. It remains glued to the rice paper but from a conservation point of view you've actually destroyed a bit of papyrus every time it breaks, and over a period of time that's where the papyrus will wear. Those who work to read and publish the thousands of fragments now stored in Naples face unusual challenges making sense of the carbonized and crushed papyri. Well I suppose they look like toast. They are brown, dark brown, bits of them are sort of grayish, very broken fragmentary surface. And then against that you can see a kind of shinier gray ink, that's what we're looking for of course is this ink. The surface is not at all
flat, there are ridges in it which come from the papyrus having been rolled up and then squashed. It was like flattening out a potato chip. Papyrus is a little thicker than potato chips but it's nearly as brittle. You can't sit at a table put the papyrus flat on that table, look through the microscope and you'll see everything. You have to keep on moving it constantly trying to get the
exactly the right angle at which the ink shows up. Sometimes what's happened is that part of one layer has come apart from the layer to which it belongs, and that piece of papyrus has become attached to the wrong layer. When this papyrus came unrolled, like many of the Herculaneum papyri, the layers stuck to each other and when you're reading the papyrus, sometimes almost imperceptively, you find that you're reading text that belongs on a different part of the papyrus, and you can hardly even see that the layers have stuck to each other. A typical publication of a scroll fragment will be full of holes. Patient scholars work on an elaborate puzzle, trying to fill in text that others may have missed. One feels kind of desperate having 75% or 35% of a
text but the conditions are such that you can't read it all, and this is what drives scholars on. I never think of this as a hideous work, it's almost addictive really. What you find when you're in Naples reading the papyrus is that you're angry every time you have to leave the Officina because it's closing. After I've worked on the papyri all day, when I go to sleep I will frequently have letters dancing in front of my eyes there's no doubt of this. Despite the efforts of scholars
over 250 years, some scrolls have revealed little or no text, and have not been identified or published. In 1969 Professor Marcello Gigante launches a renewed international effort to read and publish the papyri. And from the very beginning I wanted international collaboration. At a conference in 1999, Gigante meets an American team that is using new imaging technology to read burned manuscripts. He invites the team to Naples but they are initially discouraged by the poor condition of the papyri. When I looked at them, first I thought well this is the destructive power of a volcano. They look in the worst shape of any papyri I've ever seen. When they arrive at
the National Library, Steve and Susan Booras of Brigham Young University set out to see if the new technology called multi-spectral imaging can reveal any new text on the blackened papyri. They quickly determine that the technology makes it possible to isolate the text from the carbonized background. You've got black ink on black papyri, but each one of those have different reflective characteristics. While the eye sees black ink and black papyrus, multispectral imaging is
based on reflectivity. Because the ink and the papyrus reflect light differently, they can be easily distinguished from each other, especially in the infrared spectrum. In the infrared region, we have a different set of responses and so what we see as a black paper may appear light gray in the infrared region, and the ink will appear black, and so we see now black on a gray background, we photograph that, and it's easy to read. Here we have a scorze, a fragment which is an outer layer of a scroll. You can see evidence of the writing with the unaided eye. This fragment right now is being shown in a visible light filter, it's about 500 NM. There's really no evidence that there's writing at all. Now we're about 700 NM, start the camera back up,
reduce the light, we're starting to see a little bit of text in here. I'm going to focus it again, we're now seeing an image with almost complete text in the infrared using a 1,000 nanometer filter, which before, the very first image using visible filters, we were seeing virtually no text. Multi-spectral imaging was originally developed for the space program NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses the technology to study the Earth and other planets. People at JPL have tried to determine what's on the surface of some of the planets on their flybys and that gave rise to the idea that perhaps, on a smaller scale, we could now start to image some of these troublesome texts and archaeological objects. In Naples, when word spreads about the new technology, skeptical papyrologists immediately bring the BYU team their most difficult fragments for study. I just told them well if you really can bring out new letters I've got a challenging test case there is a piece of papyrus which Richard Janko and I worked over for an entire hour with the microscope, and all that is visible on it is blank surface plus remnants of two or three Greek letters, so if you can do something with that one I'll be very impressed. So with fear and trembling,
they took the piece of papyrus in, put it under the multiple imaging spectrum, started turning it up and right in front of Jeffrey Fish's and my amazed eyes, every single letter on the papyrus sprang to life. Well I thought he was going to have a stroke but he was very excited. I actually moved out of the way and he sat down at the screen, he maneuvered the text on the screen, so you could see the full column of text and I I think he sat there for 10, 15, 20 minutes, looking over that text for the very first time. Richard Janko had a similar experience with another fragment that had been very difficult to read. And suddenly instead of three letters there
were 60 letters. We went back to the library to check this, to confirm these readings, I assumed that I would be able to confirm them and after 10 minutes we realized that we had the fragment upside down, and I realized also that we could never confirm these results with the human eye, because the human eye cannot see those wavelengths of light. These before and after images show what was visible to the human eye and the text that is then revealed in the infrared spectrum. The letters are kind of leaping out of the papyrus in ways that we never imagined and so we're getting new words, we're getting new new letters, new new thoughts, new readings.The multispectral images would allow for dramatic new readings. They would also allow for study of the papyri outside
of Naples. So which filter is this one, with this filter was at 450 NM so pretty much visible light, visible light, naked eye. Yeah this image, which obviously is very striking was taken with a 1,000 nanometers that's in the infrared. Now we've taken these two images and done a photographic print out. It really is amazing when you compare the 450 nanometer image with the the 1,000 nanomer
image. Here there really is almost nothing that can be read and Gigante doesn't rate it very high in fact 1491 known uno poco legible, so hardly or scarcely legible, and pessimo, in really bad shape. One of the interesting things is that it's cataloged among the papyri Latini when in fact it's obviously Greek. Here you have entire words. It's almost certainly a philosophical text. You can read complete sections of text essentially wherever it's not broken away. Here we've got a text that we can actually do something with and read. Is this worthy of
publication? Definitely. It's uh this is a sort of thing that a papyrologist would be ecstatic about getting a text in in a condition this good. For scholars like Gigante, the new images will make it necessary to revise old readings and publications. This is papyrus number 1050 that I have been studying for many years, more than half a century. I should now make a new complete edition. I think that without doubt the new photographic proceeding that is important contribution to the progress of our papyri.
What is emerging from the scrolls today with greater clarity than ever before is a picture of Roman intellectual life in the first century. We have archaeological remains which can speak to us in a certain way but they can't speak to us in quite the same way as those places which have left writings. There are certain kinds of questions that you cannot get answered from the mere material remains. We need to have what people wrote, this is the thing which gives us the best insight into their thinking, their way of lives, their highest thoughts and their highest aspirations. It is believed that the Villa of the Papyri where the scrolls were all found was home to a school of philosophy, led by an Epicurian philosopher named Philodemus. His writings provide new insight into Epicurian beliefs. They are of incomparable value for anyone
who's interested in Epicurianism. This is the ur text of epicureanism. And here you have for example among the Epicurians, a group of people who were intelligent, who were responding to many of the same kinds of life pressures that we are, and who had a philosophy to which they were deeply committed, which tried to make them happy. While they are not considered religious texts, the philosophical scrolls do address some of the same questions posed by religion, questions about gods, about a virtuous life and about death. Epicurians saw that one of the ways
in which you eliminate pain from your life is to eliminate fear, and in particular fear of death, fear of the afterlife, there is dispute about whether Epicureans literally believed in gods. I think that they did. But in any case it's clear that those gods have nothing at all to do with us they are not interested in us they do not interfere in our lives for good or evil. It was a world in which most people worship the gods without believing in them, and the philosophers said, "well find your inner God and be tranquil in yourself and reach out to friends who think the same way, and then you'll live as happy a life as can be lived." What has not been found in the scrolls so far is any reference to early religious movements, including Christianity. At the time of the eruption, many religions were active at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Christianity had begun to take root in the area. The Apostle Paul even visited
the nearby city of Pozzouli as a missionary 30 years before the eruption of Vesuvius. So at the time of Paul, a thriving congregation existed at Pozzouli. He stopped there for many days. Ut would not be a great stretch to imagine that the Christians at Pozzouli transferred their message to Pompeii, the city with the port nearest its own. A lot of people are kind of skeptical about Christianity having made it to Herculaneum by 79 ad I'm not at all. I I think that ideas tend to move fast, especially very appealing ideas, very beautiful ideas. Although Christians were
probably there at the time of the eruption, most scholars believe that the Herculaneum papyri are very unlikely to contain Christian references because of the age and ownership of the library. The latest of the papyri in this library were written about 15 BC. They were already you know quite old when the volcano blew up, but if you're expecting works comparable to the Christian gospels, no there wouldn't, I don't think there would be anything like that. This was a philosophical library belonging to a member of the elite. Their influences would be Greek. They wouldn't be Jewish. They wouldn't be Christian, but because all of the Scrolls have not been read,
it is possible that other religious references may yet be found. What may still be hidden here is a subject of great speculation for scholars who, like their 18th century predecessors, hold out hope for new texts and more prominent authors. Well people were aware of course that vast quantities of what might be considered the best of ancient literature had been lost and so people had great hopes for this that you might find the lost tragedies of the great playwrights of Greece, or that you might find the lost books of the historian Livy, and you would discover all the things that people had come to admire the remnants of in the Renaissance. People asked me are we going to find some Aristotle and I think it's very unlikely that we would find a full text of an Aristotle or a Plato, but the habit of the school was to read passages from other philosophers and discuss them, and consequently it isn't ,impossible that we get big passages from ,greater philosophers still. The unread scrolls might also provide more literature by women, like the poet Sappho whose writings rarely survive from antiquity. We have already some quotations of Sappho in some of the philosophical writings but they're limited in extent. Rather little was
written by women in antiquity but we would be very lucky indeed to find their writings. This was something which most women did not have the leisure or the means or the education to do. Despite all that has been reclaimed from Vesuvius, there is a sense among scholars that the current collection is incomplete, that there may be something more, perhaps another entire library still buried at Herculaneum. I can't believe that there wasn't another library, another library with lost plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus, with maybe roles of of lyric poetry that we don't have, rolls of beautiful poetry. In the 18th century, excavations at the Villa of the Papyri were abandoned because of poisonous gases in the tunnels. When he rediscovered the
villa in the 20th century, archaeologist Antonio de Simone hoped to excavate the entire structure. At the time he didn't realize just how much the first excavations had missed. It would be a major undertaking to bring to light just one part of the villa, which was buried under the modern city of Ercolano. We are in the Villa of the Papyri, and this is the arcade outside the atrium. This point offered the best panoramic view. We have to imagine that this mosaic-decorated floor was part of a hallway in a great balcony that face the Gulf of Naples Even after 2,000 years, the beautiful mosaic floors and fresco-covered walls reveal the wealth and elite status of the original owners. These owners were familiar with philosophy Virgil, who probably stayed here, as did Philodemus, these great representatives of ancient literature and philosophy, and the refinement of the house furnished a most appropriate context for the circle of intellectuals who visited here.
When we resumed the excavation of this site, we came down to this level on this mosaics to verify what had been done in the 18th century. We came down through a well that was here but can't be seen anymore because it was taken out during the excavations. It was not far from this site where nearly 2,000 papyrus rolls were found in the 18th century, in room number five which is still unexcavated. And from room number five along this trajectory were found at the nearly 2,000 papyri that are now kept in the National Library in Naples. But De Simone says the discovery of the papyri was unusual. The library was not intact. Scrolls were found scattered along the floor. He believe that when Vesuvius erupted,
the papyri were being moved to safety. In all likelihood the owners of the villa considered the papyri a very valuable possession and so, in the process of fleeing towards the sea, they tried to save these papyri by carrying the cases with them. If an effort was being made to move the papyri, during in the course of the the few days in which the eruption took place, then the papyri might then have been transported to a more distant part of the villa or the villa grounds. It's possible that if you find the way in which they would have got out of the house, and the way in which they would have got down to the sea from the house, that there might be other traveling boxes for example that would be found along that route. Many scholars agree that there may be other papyri found in locations throughout the villa. If you're asking are
there going to be more texts discovered, well, yes, I'd say probably there are a lot more still buried. And if there was a main library, then the chances are it could well still be there. In 1996, the prospect of finding another library here increases when De Simone makes a startling discovery. He determines that the original villa of the papyri was at least three stories tall, but only the top level has ever been excavated or explored. Here we are on the lower level just below the public area of the villa. As you can see it's an impressive facade, well constructed. This level was made up of living quarters not for the servants but for the masters of the house. A rare glimpse inside this room reveals beautiful frescos and mosaics.
This lower level is full of rooms with mosaics on the floors and important pictures on the walls. First of all we can say that this room isn't isolated. You have access to other rooms and from this room you can enter the other rooms. This is all that remains of the wooden door that led to the other rooms. Above the door is a board painted red and a frame with painted friezes and even further up other decorations. The vault is decorated as well. On the vault we see a stucco frame that runs along the sides and splits into decorations of climbing ivy, and from this room one could have gone into still another one. This is the door jamb of another passageway
so from this room one could have gone in any direction. I believe, in fact I'm convinced, that in this levels there are certainly other papyri brought down here by the villa's owners who were trying to save themselves. On the lower levels of the villa, 20th century archaeologists find two new works of sculpture. Many believe that if there is sculpture on these levels there could also be more papyri. On the first layer of the villa that was on the sea,
two beautiful heads were found. I wrote an article right away: today the heads, tomorrow the papyri, because as we were able to find these new works of art so we will be able to find the papyri. Modern archaeologists are forced to stop digging here before they can open this door to see what is on the other side. The dig is one casualty of a new government policy to suspend excavation and focus instead on preservation of Italy's many archaeological sites, but many scholars are hopeful that one day the villa excavation will be reopened. If there is a library, I think that that the water that I've seen around the excavation could perhaps be be seeping down and and destroying the papyrus rolls, so I have a great hope that the excavations will be continued. Well in general I would support excavation in the villa eventually but there are many problems with such an excavation. For one thing it's not normally considered a good
archaeological technique to go looking for something in particular. You know that that beautiful villa can't fail to be a great artistic discovery, that's really the important thing, and I think to say we've got to get in there and get the papyri is the mistake because it's the whole complex. Perhaps no one is more anxious to see what is inside the villa than Marcello Gigante. There is a part of the villa which never was excavated, we know this, and then we hope that the archaeologists will again excavate our villa. While the original Villa of the Papyri is still buried, it is possible to experience the richness of the Villa firsthand, not in Naples, Italy, but in Malibu, California. J Paul Getty's replica of the Villa of the Papyri, built in the 1970s, was based on the original 18th century floor plan drawings. A collector of antiquities,
Getty wanted to create an authentic setting for his collections. He said I wanted to build a building that was the kind of place in which the objects would originally have been displayed, so that people could really appreciate them in something analogous to their original context. It does give people a very good sense of what a Roman luxury villa was like. This mosaic floor is a replica of the first pavements found in the Villa of the Papyri in the 18th Century.
The Getty Villa succeeded in capturing the grandeur of the original Villa of the Papryi at Herculaneum. At one point the superintendent of excavations traveled from Pompeii to Malibu to see the museum. He said it's extraordinary this is the only place where one can really experience a Roman luxury Villa as it was intended to be seen. J. Paul Getty never saw the finished Getty Villa in person, but the museum stands as his tribute to the ancient world. Today at Herculaneum, the debate continues about the future of the original Villa of the Papyri. Most archaeologists agree that it is more important to preserve what has already been
excavated here than to expose new parts of the site. We simply don't have very good techniques in many cases for conserving these objects. In fact the situation around there is so disastrous that many things which we could preserve aren't being preserved simply because we don't have the money and the people to do it. Everything is in a critical condition. Wherever you go, you see the appalling difficulty of maintaining what has been excavated. You can look at the bits that were excavated in the 18th Century, and they're reduced effectively to bare walls, to rubble. You can't see any frescoes. If they are any mosaics they've long since been overgrown by vegetation, and so on and essentially it's lost apart from the very bare bones of the skeleton. The few excavations that are active today at Pompeii are different
from those in the 18th Century. They focus on the Pre-Roman history of the city. There is very little pressure or interest in exposing new parts of the city, because of the problem of maintaining and preserving the rest of it. (Take this out carefully here...when you get into here you can't do more...) Everything that hasn't been actually restored within the last 10 years needs restoration now, and that is why there's so much worry about doing new excavation. If you can't maintain the excavations of as recently as 50, or even 30 years ago, how can you justify doing new excavation which will add to the problem? The Italian government has made big efforts in recent years to increase the money spent on the very costly process of restoring and maintaining the site. I think that's very welcome but maybe you can never win.
Like the archaeological sites that were frozen in time when they were sealed under volcanic material, the Herculaneum papyri are also deteriorating. I mean we're losing pieces of them all the time. The papyri are disintegrating in front of our very eyes. When you look at a scroll, there is black dust over the whole thing. If you just take a little bitty piece of of this carbonized papyrus and just touch it,it just turns to dust immediately. One's always afraid, when working over the materials, of sneezing. It is a terrifying thought that one could blow
away part of the scroll by an ill-advised sneeze. Deterioration has always been a big issue. Even Piaggio says that the longer a scroll has been open the fainter its characters have become. The texts that I'm working on, when I started working on them 10 years ago, I could read many more letters in them than I can read today. We have no photographic record
of what they looked like then because photographic techniques were not such that they could capture them. On the 250th anniversary year of the scrolls' discovery, the National Library and Brigham Young University complete an imaging project as they work to convert multi-spectral images of more than 10,000 scroll fragments into a permanent digital library. Well no one has really come up with a particularly good way of conserving the Herculaneum papyri because anything you do to them alters them, and so the modern approach to conservation is to try to make as good an image of an object as possible, and these images are, so far, the best that we've been able to get. It's really exciting to have tens of thousands of images in the digital library. No matter what happens to the originals, we'll be able to now have digital images that will survive indefinitely. The creation of a digital library will assure that the philosophers and
writers whose voices are heard only through the Herculaneum papyri will never be silenced again. Mount Vesuvius looms over cities ancient and modern here on the Bay of Naples. The active volcano is a constant reminder of an ancient tragedy. I'm always struck by just how close Vesuvius is. It's always looming up on the horizon. You can't forget that it's there and
I suppose the people who lived there perhaps they did forget that it was there and they couldn't believe what was happening. For visitors here, there is always a sense of the people who lived in these spaces and built these cities. I would like to feel the ghosts of antiquity rather more strongly and not less strongly. In a sense what I want to do is is is feel their presence here and how did they use these spaces that we see. You can see the moment of death very vividly, but in a sense what I want is not the moment of death. It's getting behind that to the to the life, the many moments of life behind that, and it is here, the traces are here, and it requires a patient effort of historical imagination to put those traces together and recapture ancient life. The Herculaneum papyri alone reveal the people's thoughts and daily lives
in the days before Vesuvius swallowed up these ancient cities. It makes me sad that that kind of tragedy was what froze Herculaneum so that we can read these texts. I love to imagine Philodemius reading these things to people like Virgil. I love putting myself back back there in the villa. It is silent here in the Villa of the Papyri, where a doorway stands unopened and a part of the villa unexplored. The scholars who study the Herculaneum papyri recognize
that the work has its own timetable. Still they are anxious and hopeful that the search will one day resume for a lost library. I'm disappointed, of course, like so many things in this long story, which takes place at time intervals which aren't really compatible with the scale of a single human life, that that brings up the prospect that I may in the end be too old and tired to rejoice in these new papyri if they ever get discovered. I hope that before my death, I can see the all of the villa the light of our sun.