An engine for discovery, University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales' revolutionary virtual unwrapping tool can unlock secrets from ancient scrolls without ever opening the fragile, often scorched artifacts. With computer science, and talented UK students, he is proving what many once thought impossible to be possible.
"This work opens a new window through which we can look back through time by reading materials that were thought lost through damage and decay," said Seales, a pioneer in the Department of Computer Science, after a major breakthrough in 2016.
The breakthrough was the moment he and his research team revealed an ancient scroll from En-Gedi, near the Dead Sea in Isreal, to be the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book – Leviticus – ever found in a Holy Ark.
Because the surfaces of the scrolls are not flat like a book (imagine a crumbling rolled-up newspaper), the visualization of the writing is a complex process.
Through his virtual unwrapping software, Seales has revealed text within the charred En-Gedi scroll and other objects by using data from high resolution scanning, which represents the internal structure of the 3-D object, to digitally segment, texture and flatten the scroll.
Here's how it works:
Seales' work at UK has garnered international attention from BBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Fox News, The Guardian, The Economist and more.
The first-of-its-kind software was most recently featured on 60 Minutes as the show explored the mystery behind the 2000-year-old scrolls of Herculaneum and Seales' efforts to unravel ancient wisdom, virtually.
"The people are gone. The cultures are gone. The places are gone. And yet, like a time capsule, you have this item that tells a story," Seales told 60 Minutes' Bill Whitaker.
As they continue to work toward revealing text inside the Herculaneum scrolls, Seales and his team of UK students are also working to uncover lost writings of a severely scorched early book, or codex, dating back as far as 400-600 A.D.