AI Deciphers Ancient Scroll Charred by Volcanic Eruption

K. C. Sabreena Basheer 07 Feb, 2024 • 2 min read

The mystery surrounding the Herculaneum scrolls, charred and seemingly unreadable for centuries, has taken a remarkable turn. A team of researchers has made significant progress in decoding the ancient writings buried beneath the ash of Mount Vesuvius. Thanks to the innovative use of artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced technology. This breakthrough, while shedding light on ancient philosophical discourse, hints at the potential for further revelations about life in antiquity.

AI helps decode ancient scroll hidden under Mount Vesuvius for centuries.

Deciphering the Unreadable

The Herculaneum scrolls, ravaged by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, were long considered indecipherable relics of a lost ancient library. However, recent advancements in technology, including AI and nondestructive CT scans, have breathed new life into these charred remnants. The Vesuvius Challenge, a global competition, has played a pivotal role in driving this endeavor forward, offering a platform for scholars and enthusiasts alike to tackle the age-old puzzle.

Unveiling Ancient Wisdom

The winning team of the Vesuvius Challenge, comprised of students and researchers from diverse backgrounds, utilized a combination of machine learning algorithms and specialized techniques to unlock a portion of the scroll’s content. Led by individuals like Luke Farritor, a young student with a knack for AI, the team managed to discern Greek characters and uncover philosophical musings dating back over two millennia. The deciphered text offers insights into Epicurean philosophy, particularly regarding the pursuit of pleasure and the perception of abundance versus scarcity.

Herculaneum scrolls from A.D. 79, decoded
Source: Vesuvius Challenge

The Road Ahead

While the recent breakthrough marks a significant milestone, it also opens doors to further exploration and discovery. There are plans underway to continue scanning and deciphering additional portions of the scrolls. This has raised anticipation surrounding the unveiling of more ancient wisdom. The collaborative nature of the Vesuvius Challenge, coupled with the open sourcing of methodologies, sets a promising precedent for future endeavors in the realm of archaeology and ancient studies.

Our Say

The successful deciphering of the Herculaneum scrolls stands as a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance. Through the marriage of technology and scholarship, we have managed to breathe new life into fragments of our ancient past. This offers a glimpse into the minds of those who came before us. As we embark on this journey of exploration and discovery, let us embrace the spirit of curiosity and collaboration, knowing that the pursuit of knowledge knows no bounds.

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