New technology allows archaeologists to use particle physics to explore the past

Naples, Italy – Beneath the blaring horns and operatic screams of Naples, Italy's most delightfully chaotic city, archaeologist Raffaella Bosso descends into the deafening silence of an underground maze, zigzagging after some 2,300 years.

Before the ancient Romans, it was the ancient Greeks who colonized Naples, leaving traces of life and death within the ancient burial grounds, he says.

She points a flashlight at the stone-relief tomb depicting the legs and feet of those buried inside.

He explains that in this one grave „there are two people, a man and a woman.” „Usually you'll find eight or more.”

The tomb was discovered in 1981 by ancient excavations.

Now, archaeologists are trading in their pickaxes for subatomic particle detectors the size of household microwaves, along with physicists.

Thanks to the breakthrough technology, particle physicists like Valery Dyukov can use them to see hundreds of feet of rock, never mind an apartment building 60 feet high.

„It's very similar to radiography,” he says, placing his particle detector next to a damp wall, still decorated with colorful floral paintings.

Archaeologists have long suspected that there were additional chambers on the other side of the wall. But to peek, they'll have to break them.

Thanks to this detector, they now know for sure, and they don't have to use a shovel.

To understand the technology at work, Dyukov takes us to his lab at the University of Naples, where researchers scour images from the inventor.

Specifically, they look for muons, cosmic rays left over from the Big Bang.

The muon detector tracks and counts the number of muons passing through the structure and then determines the density of space inside the structure by tracking the number of muons passing through it.

In burial, it captured about 10 million muons in 28 days.

„There's a muon over there,” says Dyukov, pointing to a thin line he blasted using a microscope.

After months of painstaking analysis, Dyukov and his team managed to put together a three-dimensional model of the hidden burial ground, closed to the human eye for centuries, now opened thanks to particle physics.

A three-dimensional model of a hidden burial chamber in Naples, Italy, created by researchers using particle physics. March 2024.

CBS News

Science fiction seems to be used as well Take a peek inside the pyramids in EgyptProfessor Giovanni de Lellis says the chambers beneath the volcanoes can even cure cancer.

„Especially cancers that are deep in the body,” he says. „This technology is used to measure the damage that can be done to healthy tissue around the cancer. It is very difficult to predict the progress that this technology will actually bring in any of these fields because we have never observed objects with this precision.”

„It's a new era,” he marvels.

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