On January 11, the 2009 Theodor Mommsen Prize, Section Papirologia Ercolanese, was presented to Steven Booras, senior project manager with the Maxwell Institute's Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts and to Brigham Young University for "the production of multispectral images of the Herculaneum Papyri."
The prize has been presented annually for the past 19 years by the International Center for the Study of the Herculaneum Papyri to scholars and institutions that have made the most significant contributions to research on the Herculaneum Papyri. The award ceremony was held at the beautiful and historic Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn in Naples, Italy. In addition to Booras attending to receive his award, Roger Macfarlane, associate professor of Classics and principal investigator of the current Herculaneum project—which began under the auspices of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and is now housed in the College of Humanities—accepted a plaque on behalf of BYU, the sponsoring institution for the project.
From 2000 to 2004, Steven and Susan Booras performed multispectral imaging (MSI) on approximately 800 trays of carbonized papyri from Herculaneum, producing approximately 35,000 images. These important papyri, containing a large number of Greek philosophical texts that are preserved nowhere else, come from a single personal library, known as the Villa of the Papyri, at Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The papyri were instantly charred (carbonized) and buried, preserving their contents but rendering them mostly or, at times, entirely illegible. Through the application of MSI, the legibility of these charred and blackened texts is vastly improved over conventional photography.