New Technology Reads Ancient Documents without Opening Them

21 January, 2018

Attempting to open very old books and records without damaging them can be difficult.

But scientists in Switzerland say they have improved a method to read age-old documents without even touching them.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are using radiation, in the form of x-rays, to create images of the documents. This method is called X-ray computed tomography or X-Ray tomography.

On a recent day, the researchers used X-ray tomography to read from a small 14th century document.

Giorgio Margaritondo is working on the project. Reading from the document, he noted, "in the year 1351, a young lady from Venice...wrote a testament, and then the testament was sealed, and remained sealed for all these many centuries."

Italian officials are planning to use X-Ray tomography to build an open digital system in the State Archives of Venice.

Margaritondo says, "What you find inside the Archives are not only small documents. But most of the items are huge volumes the size of a table, and so we must be able in the future to look inside them."

Many of the documents show signs of weathering, and are easily broken.

Fauzia Albertin is also working on the project. She says, "We need a non-invasive technique to read inside them. Thanks to the use for thousands of years of iron-based inks we can read them using X-rays."

Albertin is also with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

The researchers have a lot of work to keep them busy. The State Archives of Venice has a huge number of records. They were produced over a period of about 1,000 years. The documents cover about 80 kilometers of shelf space.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Deborah Block reported this story for VOANews. Jonathan Evans adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

testament – n. proof or evidence that something exists or is true

tomography – n. a technique for displaying a representation of a cross section through a human body or other solid object using X-rays or ultrasound.

seal – v. to close completely

digitaladj. using or involving computer technology

volume – n. an amount of something

technique – n. method

ink – n. a colored liquid used for writing or printing

shelfn. a thin, flat area used to store objects