AI helps researchers read 2000-year-old texts from scrolls

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AI helps researchers read 2000-year-old texts from scrolls. As an ancient volcanic disaster of Mount Vesuvius burned written texts into ashes beside a Roman town in 79 AD, researchers are trying to read one word from the nearly 2,000-year-old ancient Herculaneum scroll using artificial intelligence (AI).

Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky, announced the remarkable discovery on Thursday.

Those who extract legible words from the scrolls will receive cash prizes from Silicon Valley investors.

‘This is the first time text has been recovered from one of these rolled-up, intact scrolls,’ said Stephen Parsons, staff researcher on the university’s digital restoration initiative. Experts have been able to uncover more letters from the ancient scroll since the project began.

Two scrolls and fragments from Vesuvius were X-rayed in thousands of detailed 3D images as part of a Vesuvius challenge. Furthermore, they made public an AI system they had trained to read scroll letters.

Unopened scrolls are believed to have been written by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law.

Taking up the challenge, Luke Farritor in Nebraska and Youssef Nader in Berlin both read the same ancient Greek word on one of the scrolls: “πορφύραc”, meaning “purple”.

Federica Nicolardi, a papyrologist at the University of Naples Federico II, said three lines of the scroll, containing up to ten letters, are now readable. There are at least four columns of text in a recent section.

“This word takes us into an unopened ancient book, evocative of royalty, wealth, and even mockery,” Professor Seales said.

In Pliny’s Natural History, purple is explored as a method of producing Tyrian purple from shellfish. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is mocked when he is dressed in purple robes before crucifixion. What this particular scroll is talking about is unknown, but I believe it will be revealed soon. The beginning of an old, new story with purple is an incredible place to be.”

As of now, all texts have been analyzed in ancient Greek, but some may be in Latin.

According to Robert Fowler, an emeritus professor of Greek at the University of Bristol, the library’s non-philosophical part remains to be discovered, and here fantasy runs riot: new plays by Sophocles, Sappho poems, Ennius’ Annals, Livy’s lost books, and so on.

I would also be delighted to find so-called documentary papyri such as letters, business papers, etc. These would be a treasure trove for historians.”

According to Professor Seales, reading words from the Herculaneum scrolls is like stepping on the moon.

With such a talented team working together, reading the words is that step into new territory, and we have taken it. Now we are ready to explore.”

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