Jordan Rawlings and Faculty Mentor: Roger Macfarlane, Department of Comparative Arts and Letters
In the 1750’s AD, military engineers commissioned by the Bourbon rulers found many black, chalky chunks while excavating an underground Roman villa. Initially these lumps were thought to be coal or other detritus and were thus handled with little care. Later, some workers noticed that these black lumps were manmade and actually preserved traces of writing. Early attempts at deciphering and unrolling these papyri scrolls proved unfruitful and resulted in the destruction of many papyri. Eventually a meticulous approach applied by Antonio Piaggio, an experienced ancient manuscript and document worker, proved successful. Although it preserved the papyri, Piaggio’s method worked slowly. With many of the papyri now unrolled, in the 18th and 19th centuries the reading and translating could commence. Throughout the history of Herculaneum papyrology, scholars have used whatever technology facilitated seeing the papyri. Not until recent times has technology proved effective at solving the illegibility of carbon based ink on a carbonized background. BYU provided an innovative and ingenious solution using multi-spectral imaging. Essentially this technology distinguishes between the reflectivity of light that the human eye cannot discern.
During the excavation and initial treatment of the Herculaneum papyri in the 19th-century, the collection was fragmented, disorganized, and confused. In his 2008 BYU MA thesis titled “A Review Of The Latin Papyri Of Herculaneum: A Description And Comprehensive Database Of The Contents” Aaron Olsen states, “the same scroll could be cut into different pieces and placed in different areas-and therefore receive different inventory numbers.” Thanks to BYU’s Ancient Textual Imaging group, digitized images facilitate new modes of reading. Because one of the first steps of studying any papyrus is the identification and definition of the scribal hand, from which date and other matters of provenience can be determined, I investigated the background and updated information pertaining to P.Herc. 1475. for my ORCA project. The purpose of my project was to analyze P.Herc. 1475. paleographically.
Utilizing Adobe software I made a catalogue of the Latin script contained within the P. Herc. 1475. fragments. The catalogue contains both similar and contrasting letters. Upon creation of the catalogue, I compared the online database that I created to the actual text. Upon visiting the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples I used a microscopic with bright lighting to better view the actual papyri and compare to my digital catalogue. I plan on giving this catalogue to my mentor and professor Dr. Roger Macfarlane to aid in his translation of P. Herc. 1475. Upon our visit to Naples we looked at the charred papyri utilizing our knowledge of the Latin catalogue but were unable to make any concrete conclusions for a translation of the Latin text at the time. I hope that this catalogue will aid in any future translations of P. Herc. 1475.
Because of this project, I learned a great deal about the archaeological site of Herculaneum. Working closely with my advisor, I learned how to conduct effective and thesis driven research. As a result, when the 2017 Art History and Classics study abroad came to Herculaneum I explained the site and led them through much of the site with the aid of Professor Macfarlane. Additionally upon our classroom visit to the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples I showed my classmates some charred papyri fragmentsand explained the history as well as the recent scholarly inquiries concerning the
Herculaneum papyri. I am currently finishing my finished research draft which I plan on submitting to Philomathes and Thetean. Both are undergraduate research journals at Austin Peay State University and BYU respectively. In addition to my Classics major, I have been taking science classes so I can apply to medical school. The research techniques and experiences that I have learned because of this project have enabled me to be a better applicant for medical school. In many of my interviews, my research project was brought up and I was able to explain how my research taught me how to construct a persuasive argument and plausible hypothesis. Additionally the research has taught me how to think critically which many medical schools find essential for their applicants.