The eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79 obliterated the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. But the volcanic ash preserved what it destroyed — including, in Herculaneum, a library in a lavish villa thought to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. The library contains 600-700 of papyrus scrolls, dried and blasted by hot gases into what look like twisted logs of charcoal, and then buried deep under the ash.
The researchers were able to decipher an alphabet of Greek letters, and occasional words. Delattre compared the handwriting to that in other Herculaneum scrolls, and found a match with a scribe writing in the first centurybc. Given that scribe’s activity in other scrolls, the new text is likely to be a copy of writing by the philosopher and poet Philodemus, who lived from 110 bc to around 40 bc. That would match up with what has been learned from the texts already translated. They are mostly written in Greek, and include a large amount of work by Philodemus, who saw himself as defending the teachings of Epicurus, a philosopher who lived two centuries earlier and built up a system of ethics based on a materialist view of the world.