Digital Restoration of Damaged Papyri:
Multispectral Imaging of Texts from Herculaneum, Tebtunis, Oxyrhynchus, and Beyond

Roger Macfarlane
Professor of Classics
Brigham Young University

Nov. 2, 2006
Visualization Studio
Jury Room C, Campbell Hall

In a joint project of the Egypt Exploration Society and Brigham Young University Multi-Spectral Imaging (MSI) technology was extremely successful in recovering previously illegible writing on several of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. With multi-spectral imaging, many pictures of the illegible papyrus are taken using different filters, finely tuned to capture certain wavelengths of light. Thus, researchers can find the best part of the spectrum for distinguishing ink from the writing material in order to recover illegible marks on damaged or rewritten papyri. Given that there are over 500,000 papyri that survive from the Greco-Roman town of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, the amount to be deciphered by this technique is potentially enormous. In his lecture, Prof. Macfarlane estimated that 5-10% of the texts have features that would lend themselves to enhancement or recovery by means of MSI.