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Friday, January 23, 2015

Have you seen the latest news on papyrus?

Pompeii fresco of Greek lyric poet Sappho.
We've been reading with utter fascination the recent developments with ancient papyrus writings that have been in the news recently. A few days ago, there were reports from all over about the biblical scholars who may have found a fragment of the oldest known Gospel of Mark inside an Egyptian mummy mask. If it turns out to be authentic, that surely is an astounding find.

Now comes news from Smithsonian Magazine that new x-ray technology is allowing Italian scientists to study for the first time ancient scrolls from Pompeii blackened in the volcanic eruption in 79 AD and made so fragile that they could be destroyed just touching them.

With the new x-ray machine, scientists won't have to touch the scrolls to study them. They'll just scan them like CT scanner, only a little different. It's all quite technical but the gist is that ancient inks sit on top of the papyrus fibers just enough that they can be seen in the x-ray images.

Anybody who is attracted to the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, of course, is going to sit up and take notice when developments like this pop up so we figure we're probably not alone in seeking all the details. From what we've seen, the technological breakthrough has just begun to yield something the scientists can work with so it may be some time before there are any great revelations. Apparently there are some 1,800 blackened scrolls that have been discovered.

As it happens, next year's theme for the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is Written Relics: Papyrus to paperbacks. It's a great theme that gets to the heart of the many varied reasons collectors collect books. It'll be fun to explore in 2016. Maybe by then there will be some new developments on these two stories.

In the meantime, we're focused on this year's book fair. The theme this year is Modern Literature: the truth and beauty of fiction. We'll be talking about that in much greater detail in these days leading up to the book fair, so stay tuned and share with your friends.

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