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Multispectral imaging

Introduction | Procedure | Results 1 | 2 | 3

Gene Ware of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, visited Oxford in the week of 10 April 2005 to create MSI images, taken at all ranges of the light band, of papyri in Oxford libraries, as part of a project begun in 2002. We scanned portions of the unrolled Herculaneum papyrus in the Bodleian Library and experimented on problematic carbonised and non-carbonised samples in the Oxyrhynchus collection in the Sackler Library, some of them for final checks in texts scheduled for publication in the next two volumes of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The results provided many new readings and confirmation of uncertain readings in some problematic areas, none at all in others, depending on settings and surface type. A number of new identifications emerged of literary and documentary texts not previously made by the usual means, together with the isolation of four or five different types of surface and obscurity that respond well or not so well to the BYU process.

The Oxyrhynchus texts will be published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, beginning with the next volume (LXIX). An article on the technical aspects is planned for Scientific American.

A selection from the media coverage is available on the papyri page on this site.

Below is a Flash-based interactive demonstration of how the multispectral imaging of a papyrus, in this case P.Oxy. XXX 2507, at a series of points on the light spectrum (scaled in nanometers/nm), can give us clearer and better results on some sections of the papyrus compared with photography at normal, human vision. You can move the reading pointer along the scale either by clicking on the red arrows to either increase or decrease the position of the pointer along the scale, or you can use the up(↑)/down(↓) cursor keys on your computer keyboard, but if you are using the keyboard you must click once on the image below for the web browser to get the Flash presentation into focus. You can also press '+' on your computer keyboard to skip, by way of a short cut, to the upper limit on the scale (1000nm), and pressing '-' (ie. minus) on the keyboard will skip to the lowest limit (600nm). You can therefore zoom into detail on the image and use the up(↑)/down(↓) keys to adjust the multispectral light frequency while your view is zoomed in. You must repeatedly click on the red arrows to move the reading pointer along the scale, but if you use the up(↑)/down(↓) cursor keys, you can keep either key pressed down for the pointer to move along the scale automatically. There is also a measuring facility, using the 'grid' checkbox, to display a grid spaced in centimeters, so if you have zoomed into the image, you will be able to keep track of the scale of measurements.


Advanced options, including 'zoom' and 'rewind', are available from the Flash menu. To bring up the menu (shown here), click on the image with the right-hand mouse button (Windows users) or click on the image with the mouse button while holding down the 'ctrl'/'control' key (Macintosh users).

Once you have zoomed in, you can move around inside the image by clicking the mouse button (the left-hand mouse button for Windows users) and moving the mouse in the direction desired while keeping the button depressed. (You may first need to select 'Forward' from the Flash menu, as described above.)