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.
Story: Gregory Barber, Wired | Photo: Wikimedia Commons