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3D X-ray technology to reveal secrets of 'unreadable' 15th century scroll

  • 15-century-manuscript.jpg

    The Bressingham roll. (Norfolk Record Office)

  • unrolled-most.jpg

    The Bressingham Roll as unrolled as possible. The section to the right of the image is stuck together. (Norfolk Record Office)

For decades, a 15th century Norfolk, England scroll was believed to be forever unreadable. The water-damaged parchment from Bressingham Manor was thought to be too fragile to be opened and read without causing the scroll to disintegrate.

Now using 3D X-ray technology typically used in dentistry, the scroll is set to be read virtually.

"Having the chance to unlock a part of Norfolk history which has been closed to us for maybe hundreds of years feels very special," Gary Tuson from the Norfolk Records Office (NRO) told the BBC.

The X-ray system scanned the scroll and created approximately 40,000 images which when pieced together will reveal the text.

The process, called microtomography, process scans the iron and copper in the text's ink to create a high contrast image of the scroll.

"We have documents from Bressingham Manor dating back to 1273, but when you get to the 15th Century you just can't get at what it says on the inside of this roll," said Tuson.

Researchers hope the document, which has been under the supervision of the Apocalypto Project, an effort between the NRO, experts at Queen Mary University of London and Cardiff University, will shed light on everyday life for Norfolk villagers in the 1400s.

"To be able to unlock documents like this, to be the first person to read them in hundreds of years, is fascinating," David Mills, from the Apocalypto Project said. "As you start to delve through the image you start to see the outline of letters come together - it's a great feeling."

The results are expected to be released by Christmas.

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