Artificial Intelligence: AI Helps Decipher A Word On The Herculaneum Scrolls

“Today, the Herculaneum scrolls are unlost.” – Brent Seales, computer science professor at the University of Kentucky.

In a monumental breakthrough, the Herculaneum scrolls, long considered unreadable due to their damage from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, have yielded their secrets. Computer science professor Brent Seales, along with partners from EduceLab, the Library of the Institut de France, and the Vesuvius Challenge, hosted an event to announce the reading of an entire word from the scrolls. The Greek characters, πορφύραc, were revealed to mean “purple dye” or “clothes of purple.”

Contestants Luke Farritor, a 21-year-old SpaceX intern, and Youssef Nader, an Egyptian biorobotics graduate student in Berlin, played pivotal roles in this discovery.

These scrolls, preserved for over two millennia, offer insight into a bygone era when world religions were emerging, the Roman Empire reigned, and much of the world remained unexplored. Additionally, they may shed light on the significance of purple dye in ancient Rome.

This achievement stems from a two-decade-long journey initiated by Seales to develop an AI program capable of reading the scrolls without physical unrolling. The Vesuvius Challenge, which released software and X-ray images of the scrolls, has seen remarkable progress, with Farritor and Nader leading the way in virtually unwrapping the text.

Their findings have earned them the “First Letters Prize,” with the competition still ongoing. The ultimate goal is to read four passages from the scrolls by the end of 2023, and the competition has spurred global collaboration to accelerate this decoding.

The Herculaneum scrolls’ successful virtual unwrapping showcases the power of AI and its potential to uncover ancient wisdom. As the race continues to reveal the entirety of these scrolls, it promises to be a monumental discovery from the ancient world, demonstrating the triumph of perseverance and technology over time’s challenges.

Related Story: AI Model Helps Decipher The 24th Century BCE Akkadian Script

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