Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Secrets of ancient Herculaneum scroll deciphered by AI

By 37ci3 Feb9,2024

ROME – then buried in ashes Mount Vesuvius A cataclysmic eruption in 79 AD, hundreds of papyrus scrolls hid their secrets for centuries. But archaeologists have now been able to decipher some ancient texts with its help artificial intelligence.

was discovered among the remains of a villa thought to belong to Julius Caesar father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the Herculaneum Papyrus is a collection of about 1,000 scrolls that were carbonized during the eruption, along with thousands of other remains.

Found by a farm worker in the 18th century, they were named after the place where they were buried, Herculaneum – an ancient Roman city to the south. Pompeiii it was also destroyed by the explosion.

Previous attempts to unravel their secrets have failed, as most of the scrolls have been reduced to carbonized ash and torn into pieces. However, several of them were painstakingly opened by a monk over several decades and were found to contain philosophical texts written in Greek.

“Until now, the only way to read the contents of the Herculaneum scrolls is to piece together the thousands of pieces that are fragmented,” Richard Janko, distinguished professor of classical studies at the University of Michigan, told NBC. Thursday news.

Scorched Scroll Mount Vesuvius
A 2,000-year-old scroll burned during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. University of Kentucky / AFP – Getty Images

“It’s like creating a mosaic, and there aren’t many people who want to do it,” he said. “Thus, deciphering their contents could take 500 years. With this technique, hopefully, it should be easier and faster.”

The breakthrough occurred after the launch of a global competition to speed up the reading of texts. The Vesuvius Challenge offered a $1 million prize to anyone who could solve the problem and find a way to read the remaining 270 sealed scrolls, most of which are kept in a library in Naples, about 8 miles west of Herculaneum.

It was launched by a team led by Professor Brent Seales at the University of Kentucky, who released the software and thousands of 3D X-ray images of three pieces of papyrus and two folded sheets in the hope that global research teams would investigate. challenge

Seales’ team had already “virtually opened” an ancient scroll from Israel using X-ray tomography and computer vision. But this was not enough to read the difficult-to-see ink on the ancient documents of Herculaneum.

“The chemistry of ink in the ancient world is different from that of the Middle Ages. Even when exposed to X-rays, it is invisible to the naked eye.” “But we know that tomography can get information about ink.”

“In 2019, we came up with an AI-based solution that allowed us to ‘see’ ink, but it required a lot of data and we had a small team. So we started the call to expand the processes and speed up the work,” he said.

A total of 18 teams participated in the competition, and the best results were sent to an international team of papyrologists who evaluated each entry for readability and transcribed the texts.

In the end, the judges, which included Janko, decided that a team of three students—Luke Farritor of the United States, Youssef Nader of Egypt, and Julian Schilliger of Switzerland—should share the $700,000 grand prize.

After training machine learning algorithms on the scans, the trio were able to read 2,000 letters from a sheet of paper. After creating a 3D scan of the text using a CT scan, the sheet was segmented. A machine learning model – an application of artificial intelligence – then detected complex regions that allowed the text to be deciphered.

After the winners were announced earlier this week, Nat Friedman, one of the competition’s sponsors, wrote on social media platform X that they were able to read “new, never-before-seen text from the ancient world” in the 15 columns. at the very end of the first scroll.

“The author—probably the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus—writes here about music, food, and the enjoyment of life,” he said. In the final section, the author casts a shadow over unnamed ideological opponents—perhaps the Stoics? — “having nothing to say about pleasure in general or in particular.”

Giancarlo del Mastro, professor of papyrology at the University of Naples Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, called this technique “revolutionary”.

“We were blown away,” said del Mastro, who also helped judge the Vesuvius Challenge. “We worked day and night to interpret them, but what excites me even more is that using this method, we can now reveal what has been hidden in the papyri for almost 2,000 years.”

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By 37ci3

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