High-Tech Imaging Could Reveal Lost Texts

An Allied bombing in 1944 destroyed a collection of around 2,000 medieval books and parchments, some dating back to the 12th century. Multispectral imaging may reveal text on some of the badly burned manuscripts, many of which were unpublished. The non-invasive multispectral imaging technique had been used to decipher burned scrolls from Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Unlike the Herculaneum scrolls, the Chartres manuscripts were dowsed in water from firehoses; research engineer Dominique Poirel said, "The action of water after the fire vitrified the parchments, making them like glass. They are also very breakable."

"The library at Chartres was possibly the greatest medieval library," said Constant Mews, a professor at Monash University in Victoria, Australia. The centerpiece of the Chartres collection was the Heptateuchon, a treatise on the arts by 12th century philosopher Thierry de Chartres; while some of the Heptateuchon is still intact, much of it had been destroyed by the fire.