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.

From Wired: Unmasking the Secrets That Ancient Mummies Hold, an introduction to how archaeologists, physicists, and engineers from Berkeley, Duke, UCL, and Stanford are working together to use a technology called Phase Contrast Imaging to scan these pieces for preservation and future study.

Next: The Great Pyramid of Giza was bright white & highly polished.

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