Ancient documents have long odds of making it to the present intact, between fires and bugs and the other ravages of time. But today’s technology can tease information even out of charred papyrus scrolls, thanks to CT scans, infrared imaging, and X-ray fluorescence. And from there, digital images can preserve the document for future scholars, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Historians still see a big distinction between priceless ancient texts and jumbles of bits and bytes, but with so many artifacts at risk of being destroyed or looted and sold on the black market, digitization does make sense. The process is expensive, though—thousands of dollars per book—and the number of as-yet-unscanned works can seem daunting.