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X-rays used to reveal hidden texts in Egyptian coffins


New imaging techniques are being used to find and read hidden text written in coffins made for middle-class Egyptians.

It’s a space-age solution to an ancient problem. For more than a century, archaeologists have dismantled mummy coffins, also known as cartonnage, in a hunt for literary treasure. In ancient Egypt, undertakers entombed the departed middle-class in sheets of papyrus thrown out by local scribes, hiding the recycled wrapping with a layer of paint and plaster, or gesso. To uncover the text—everything from bills of sale to the rare castoff of Greek literature—collectors use invasive methods, including massaging intact coverings in a sink full of Palmolive suds.

The trouble is, it’s impossible to know if you’re searching for Sophocles or a shopping list before dissolving an artifact.

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Story: Gregory Barber, Wired | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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