Vito Mocella

We discuss the first experimental demonstration of a non-destructive technique that reveals the text of a carbonized and thus extremely fragile Herculaneum papyrus. Buried by the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, the Herculaneum papyri represent a unique treasure for humanity. Overcoming the difficulties of the other techniques we prove that x-ray phase contrast tomography technique can detect the text within scrolls, thanks to the coherence and high-energy properties of a synchrotron source1. This new imaging technique represents a turning point for the study of literature and ancient philosophy, disclosing texts that were believed to be completely lost. In order to improve the imaging technique we performed also an extensive experimental analysis of the ink composition, using a combination of synchrotron techniques at the ESRF, discovering the presence of metal in the ink of two Herculaneum papyrus fragments and proving that metals were used in ink several centuries earlier than previously believed 2,3.

1 V. Mocella et al., “Revealing letters in rolled Herculaneum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast imaging”, Nature Communications 6, 5895 (2015).
2 P. Tack et al., “Tracking ink composition on Herculaneum papyrus scrolls: quantification and speciation of lead by X-ray based techniques and Monte Carlo simulations”, Scientific Reports 6, 20763 (2016).
3 E. Brun et al., “Revealing metallic ink in Herculaneum papyri, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 113 (14) 3751-3754 (2016).


Vito Mocella graduated (Laurea) in Electronic Engineering at the “Federico II” University of Naples in 1995.In 1999 he got the French Ph.D (Doctorat) in Physics working at European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), Grenoble, France. From 1999 to 2001 he worked with Optics Group of ESRF and with SRI-CAT Group of the Advanced Photon Source, Argonne Illinois (USA). In 2002 he joined the National Council of Research (CNR) working on x-ray optics, photonic crystal and metamaterials.In November 2006 he has been nominated Cavaliere all’Ordine del Merito della Repubblica from the Italian President.In 2015 he joins the Management Board of the CNR, as the only representative of the national scientific community.Recent publications on the application of synchrotron radiation to Herculaneum papyri received a huge interest of the international media, as well as the scientific community.