Herculaneum Scrolls: deciphering the first full text
Thanks to the use of artificial intelligence, it was possible to decipher ancient scrolls from a library that was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago. The researchers used a new "virtual unfolding" technique, combining digital scanning with tomography to access information written on pieces of charcoal paper.
Deciphering Ancient Scrolls from the Buried Library of Vesuvius
Using Artificial Intelligence
At the University of Kentucky, Brent Seales' lab has spent years researching ancient texts. Using a "virtual unfolding" method, they created digital pages that helped decipher some fragments of the En-Gedi scrolls. But working with the Herculaneum scrolls turned out to be more difficult, since the ink on them was made of coal and water. But thanks to texturing and flattening techniques, the researchers were able to detect subtle differences in texture that indicated areas of text using an artificial neural network.
High resolution scans
In 2019, two scrolls were delivered to the synchrotron X-ray facility for high resolution scans. These scans were used in the Vesuvius Challenge. About 1,500 teams had the opportunity to earn money by successfully deciphering the text.
Decoding 15 columns of text
Last fall, using machine learning, we were able to recognize some letters and words on one of the scrolls. The general themes of the texts that I was able to read are related to music, food and enjoying life. The research team received a cash prize of $700 thousand. However, this is only 5% of the contents of the scrolls. The next Vesuvius Challenge offers $100,000 for deciphering 90% of the four scrolls scanned so far.
- Vesuvius - volcano
- Herculaneum - ancient Roman city
- Brent Seales - researcher, creator of the "virtual deployment" method
- CT - computed tomography
- Vesuvius Challenge - a competition to decipher ancient scrolls
- En-Gedi - the name of a scroll found on the western shore of the Dead Sea
- Leviticus - the title of a book from which the first verses on the En-Gedi scroll were found
- Oxford - a city in the UK, site of a synchrotron X-ray facility
- Ars Technica - source of information