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Archaeology & History

Ancient scrolls buried by Vesuvius eruption deciphered using AI

By T.K. Randall
February 6, 2024 · Comment icon 1 comment
Scanning the Herculaneum scrolls.
Image Credit: Diamond Light Source / Digital Restoration Initiative, University of Kentucky
Three researchers have been awarded a $700,000 prize for producing the first readable text from the previously unreadable scrolls.
When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, it didn't just destroy the city of Pompeii - several other, smaller, settlements were also enveloped in ash and dust including the town of Herculaneum.

It was here that archaeologists unearthed hundreds of scrolls - all of them carbonized by the intense heat - within the walls of what was once the palatial residence of a man named Piso.

For years, experts have attempted to reveal the contents of these scrolls, but their fragile state, coupled with the carbonization process, has made it extremely difficult to examine them.

Now, though, three students from the US, Egypt and Switzerland have succeeded in deciphering around 2,000 words written on the scrolls.

The achievement was made possible through the work of multiple teams over many years (many of whom winning smaller prizes) with the trio ultimately netting the $700,000 grand prize for their efforts.
Deciphering the text required the use of several methods and technologies including artificial intelligence, digital scanning and micro-computed tomography.

"The author - probably Epicurean philosopher Philodemus - writes here about music, food, and how to enjoy life's pleasures," challenge co-founder Nat Friedman wrote on Twitter.

"In the closing section, he throws shade at unnamed ideological adversaries - perhaps the stoics? - who 'have nothing to say about pleasure, either in general or in particular.'"

An additional prize of $100,000 is now being offered to anyone who can read 90 percent of the four scrolls that have been scanned so far.

Hopefully, given enough time, we may get to find out what is written on all of them.

Source: Ars Technica | Comments (1)

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