The future of finding out more about the past

Apr 2019
110
Ireland
There are many ancient works that list sources which are now no longer extant or we now only have fragments of. For instance Q. Fabius Pictor (3rd Centry BCE) was used as a source for earlier history of Rome by ancient writers. This is only one example and have picked it randomly.

What are the chances of major finds as regards to lost works in the future or even presently being uncovered?
In general what new technologies are being developed or could be developed in the future to aid or interpret archaeological discoveries?
 

fascinating

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,378
A private library was found in Pompeii (or was it Herculaneum) which contained hundreds of scrolls, unfortunately in a charred state. I thought I read at least 10 years ago that they had been able to ascertain some of the text using x-rays. I had hoped that, by now, there would have been some manuscripts deciphered.

A large number of Egyptian coffins, from the 1st century, have been discovered, which have portraits on them, some using papyrus that previously had text on it. Recovering the text might be possible, but would involve destroying the portraits. Perhaps new technology will be able to read the text without taking the portrait apart.
 
Apr 2019
110
Ireland
A private library was found in Pompeii (or was it Herculaneum) which contained hundreds of scrolls, unfortunately in a charred state. I thought I read at least 10 years ago that they had been able to ascertain some of the text using x-rays. I had hoped that, by now, there would have been some manuscripts deciphered.

A large number of Egyptian coffins, from the 1st century, have been discovered, which have portraits on them, some using papyrus that previously had text on it. Recovering the text might be possible, but would involve destroying the portraits. Perhaps new technology will be able to read the text without taking the portrait apart.
In the case of the charred scrolls, I would like to think something of value might be found and it would be interesting to find out if any progress has been made.

As for the portraits, hopefully they can be preserved by the use of some technology that can uncover the texts that would leave them unscathed.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,057
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Listen ... some years ago, in my hometown, they were making maintenance works in a square in front of a basilica. Excavating they found a Roman structure [note that I live in "Cisalpina" Gaul, among Southern Alps]. The municipality hadn't time to allow archaeologists to study it. They covered all. Good bye Roman structure!

This is not so rare in Italy: if you excavate somewhere in Italy you will find something Roman, no way. But here we've got already a Roman door, a Roman bridge, walls, a Roman road ... do we want to add the ruins of a forgotten structure?

Now, they covered the structure in a conservative way, so that in a future it will be possible to study it, anyway this is a typical case when we simply decide to ignore the past because it would be a problem for our daily life to pay attention to it.
 
Apr 2019
110
Ireland
Listen ... some years ago, in my hometown, they were making maintenance works in a square in front of a basilica. Excavating they found a Roman structure [note that I live in "Cisalpina" Gaul, among Southern Alps]. The municipality hadn't time to allow archaeologists to study it. They covered all. Good bye Roman structure!

This is not so rare in Italy: if you excavate somewhere in Italy you will find something Roman, no way. But here we've got already a Roman door, a Roman bridge, walls, a Roman road ... do we want to add the ruins of a forgotten structure?

Now, they covered the structure in a conservative way, so that in a future it will be possible to study it, anyway this is a typical case when we simply decide to ignore the past because it would be a problem for our daily life to pay attention to it.
...and this in many cases is quite a sensible thing to do. There have been too many examples of gung-ho approaches when caution or delay would be better. Is Italy really such a rich resource of as sites as you describe?
 
Mar 2013
1,036
Breakdancing on the Moon.
Yep. Italy basically has more early antiquities than the rest of Europe combined. It really is insane.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,904
Portugal
There are many ancient works that list sources which are now no longer extant or we now only have fragments of. For instance Q. Fabius Pictor (3rd Centry BCE) was used as a source for earlier history of Rome by ancient writers. This is only one example and have picked it randomly.

What are the chances of major finds as regards to lost works in the future or even presently being uncovered?
In general what new technologies are being developed or could be developed in the future to aid or interpret archaeological discoveries?
Today still new written sources are being found even in places like… libraries… archives…

Some years ago a professor of mine discovered a medieval document (a parchment) that after washed out was being used as a cover to an early modern book.

Parchments were often washed and reused and modern technologies (like x-rays) allow us often to discover what is beneath and that we tough that was lost.

Then we have documents in piles and boxes that were never read by historians. We have them in almost all of the archives. There is a miner work that must be done there. Reading, translating and digitalizing old documents. And hard work is being done there. And surprises may happen.

A god example is also the documents “lost” in old archives; documents that nobody really had time to take a look: The Vatican is a gold mine in this chapter. But in the case of my country, so it is the “Torre do Tombo”, among other places.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Gisco
Mar 2019
1,858
Kansas
Then we have documents in piles and boxes that were never read by historians. We have them in almost all of the archives. There is a miner work that must be done there. Reading, translating and digitalizing old documents. And hard work is being done there. And surprises may happen.
About 10 years ago I was involved in one such project. While digging through old documents from around a 100 years ago we kept coming across newspaper references to buckets of peaches being left around town. We eventually realized we had uncovered an underground network of illegal alcohol distribution. Peaches being code for bottles of whiskey lol
 
  • Like
Reactions: Gisco

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,872
Blachernai
There's still a lot to be found, I expect. As Tulius noted, medieval manuscripts were sometimes recycled into early modern bookbindings or simply erased, and now we know to look in the bindings and we have the technology to read those that were erased. We also need to consider the linguistic gap. Latin materials are usually catalogued fairly well in western libraries, but other materials have not always received the requisite attention. A librarian friend at Major Research University in the USA who is specialized in just this said that American libraries typically have very poor and outdated catalogues of their holdings in Greek, to say nothing on non-western or non-Indo-European languages. There is also a lot of discovery to be made simply by integrating a wider range of texts and languages. This may not have much to add to, say, the religious history of 14th c. England, but in my own field of Byzantine Studies, where many languages and cultures crossed but where the history has largely been written from Greek sources, there's so much more to be learned.
 
Apr 2019
110
Ireland
About 10 years ago I was involved in one such project. While digging through old documents from around a 100 years ago we kept coming across newspaper references to buckets of peaches being left around town. We eventually realized we had uncovered an underground network of illegal alcohol distribution. Peaches being code for bottles of whiskey lol
A good story about uncovering something about the past:lol: