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  • Writer's pictureBig Data Ben

AI reads text from ancient scroll

Updated: Oct 15, 2023

October 12, 2023


Have you ever wondered what ancient people wrote on their scrolls? Well, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), we might soon find out! A young computer-science student has won a contest to read the first text inside a scroll that was burned and buried by a volcano almost 2,000 years ago. The scroll was found in the ruins of an ancient Roman city called Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the same eruption that buried Pompeii. The scroll is part of a library that contains hundreds of texts that no one has been able to read before. These texts could reveal new secrets about the history and literature of ancient Greece and Rome.


How did the student manage to read the scroll without opening it? He used a machine-learning algorithm, which is a type of AI that can learn from data and make predictions. He trained his algorithm to detect Greek letters on images of the scroll taken by X-ray scanning. The X-rays can penetrate the layers of the rolled-up papyrus and show the differences in texture where the ink was applied. The algorithm was able to find several words, including "purple", which might be related to the color of the ink or the fabric used to wrap the scroll.


This is a huge breakthrough for the field of papyrology, which is the study of ancient writings on papyrus. The student has won $40,000 for his achievement, and he might win more if he can read more passages from the scroll. He is also inspiring other researchers to use AI to unlock the secrets of the Herculaneum library and other ancient documents. Who knows what amazing discoveries await us in these ancient scrolls? Thanks to AI, we might soon be able to read them like never before!


Check out the original article here: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-03212-1.

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