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Researchers digitally unfold a letter from the Renaissance with the help of X-ray technology

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history
science

#Letters
#Paper
#Technology
# X-ray

March 4, 2021

Grace Ebert

A 3D rendering of the letter as it unfolds. All images via the archive of the Unlocking History Research Group

Six centuries after it was written, the contents of a Renaissance letter can finally be read from a trunk in The Hague. The correspondence, which we now know was likely fueled by questions about an inheritance, was part of a larger collection of nearly 600 lettered notes, a complex method of carefully folding, rolling, tucking, and tucking the paper into one own envelope is glued. Prior to the emergence of other sealing practices, this security measure ensured that no one carrying the note was privy to its contents.

According to an article in naturee, a group of MIT researchers who work as Unlock history, digitally deciphered the letter that would otherwise have to be opened by cutting through the paper, damaging the object and possibly leaving it illegible. Instead, they used a particularly sensitive X-ray microtomography scanner designed for dental offices, including mapping the exact mineral content of teeth. After scanning the paper, the researchers constructed 3D models along with an algorithm to determine certain folding patterns so that they could open the note without physically altering the artifact.

The letter dated July 31, 1697 contained an application for a death certificate from a man named Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, who lived in The Hague. “At his request, Sennacques spends the rest of the letter asking for news about the family and recommending his cousin to the graces of God,” the researchers said. “We don’t know exactly why Le Pers did not receive the letter from Sennacques, but given the merchants’ route, it is likely that Le Pers moved on.” It is unclear why this or the hundreds of other letters written in Dutch, English, French, Italian, Latin and Spanish never reached their recipients.

Go to Vimeo To see Unlocking History unfold replicas of infamous and fictional correspondence – the collection ranges from Mary Queen of Scots to Harry Potter to Beethoven – and delve further into practice the group’s websiteHere you will find folding guides, a long history and a whole archive of discreet missives. (over Science warning)

The scanned letter dated July 31, 1697

Digital rendering of the letter as it unfolds

The trunk in The Hague that contains hundreds of letters

#Letters
#Paper
#Technology
# X-ray

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