Researchers virtually open and read sealed historic letters

MIT News  March 2, 2021
Computational flattening algorithms have been successfully applied to X-ray microtomography scans of damaged historical documents, but have so far been limited to scrolls, books, and documents with one or two folds. An international team of researchers (US -MIT, industry, UK, the Netherlands) used automated computational flattening algorithm to read an unopened letter from early modern Europe without breaking its seal or damaging it in any way. They reconstructed the intricate folds, tucks, and slits of unopened letters secured shut with “letterlocking,” a practice—systematized in this paper—which underpinned global communications security for centuries before modern envelopes. They have presented a fully automatic computational approach for reconstructing and virtually unfolding volumetric scans of a locked letter with complex internal folding, producing legible images of the letter’s contents and crease pattern while preserving letterlocking evidence. They demonstrated their method on four letter packets from Renaissance Europe, reading the contents of one unopened letter for the first time…read more. Open Access TECHNICAL ARTICLE

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