AI Reads Words On Ancient Scroll Burned In Mount Vesuvius Eruption

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The scroll was deciphered by a 21-year-old computer science student Luke Farritor as part of the Vesuvius Challenge.

The papyrus scroll was burned in 79AD in the volcanic eruption.

The text in an ancient scroll that was badly burned in a volcanic eruption nearly 2,000 years ago has been read by artificial intelligence (AI), according to a report in Nature. The papyrus scrolls, still rolled up, were turned into charcoal erupted and reached the Roman town of Herculaneum in 79AD – the same one that buried the city of Pompeii. This breakthrough has given scientists hope for hundreds of such texts that have still not been read by humans in all these years.

The scroll was deciphered by a 21-year-old computer science student Luke Farritor as part of the Vesuvius Challenge, which urged people to use technology to decode ancient secrets.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln student developed a machine-learning algorithm that detected the Greek letters. Mr Farritor calibrated his neural network to recognise the subtle, small-scale differences in the surface texture of the papyrus.

“When I saw the first image, I was shocked. It was such a dream. Now, I can actually see something from the inside of a scroll,” Federica Nicolardi, a papyrologist at the University of Naples in Italy and a member of the academic committee that reviewed Mr Farritor’s findings, told Nature.

The Vesuvius Challenge announced at a press conference that Mr Farritor had won the “First Letters” prize of $40,000, after successfully deciphering and reading more than 10 characters in a 4-square-centimeter area of a scroll.

The word he discovered was “Porphyras” which means “purple”, the Vesuvius Challenge website said.

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“I saw these letters and I just completely freaked out,” Mr Farritor was quoted as saying by People. “I freaked out, almost fell over, almost cried.”

Second-place winner, Youssef Nader, also discovered the word in the same area and was awarded the $10,000 cash prize.

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