Using Artificial Intelligence USP Research Deciphers Charred Papyrus Nearly 2000

Vesuvius Challenge: USP Researchers Help Decipher Ancient Charred Papyri | Fantastic

Artificial intelligence reads the library that the volcano buried

In 2023 A global competition with cash prizes has been created to identify words from texts written on scrolls that cannot be opened or manipulated. Over the centuries, portions of the scrolls have been destroyed by those who tampered with them.

Like Pompeii, neighboring Herculaneum was destroyed by the explosion of the volcano Vesuvius. In just a few minutes, day turned into night. Much of the population of the two Roman cities died within a few hours. And its legacy only reappeared many centuries later: the architecture, the mosaics and even the wood of the beams remained.

The Herculaneum papyri were the only ancient library to remain intact. They were removed from these walls in the 18th century and it was necessary to open many small tunnels to find them. Almost 2,000 years have passed since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the Papyri House is still being excavated.

The original papyri look like burnt sticks. In fact, they are rolls of paper, papyrus paper, that were partially charred by the eruption of Vesuvius. They were exposed to a temperature of 350 degrees without burning. The mixture of clay and ash created an airtight shelter that kept these ancient books in exceptional condition. Without the explosion of Vesuvius, these papyri would have been destroyed by the humidity.

Papyrologist Federica Nicolardi of the Federico Segundo University in Naples had the privilege of reading something that no one had seen for almost two thousand years. Writings that recount the time of the Greek philosopher Epicurus and his reflections on the pleasures of the body and soul.

Federica is part of the commission that analyzed the work of students and teachers from around the world. More than three thousand people responded to the call.Challenge of Vesuvius” and tried to make one of the 600 Herculaneum papyri that were never opened readable.

If you only work in front of the computer using tomography, Xrays, particle acceleration and artificial intelligence techniques, you don't have to reel off the texts.

The young winners of the challenge were:

  • the Egyptian Youssef Nader, who studies artificial intelligence;
  • the American Luke Farritor from the computer science field;
  • and the Swiss Julian Schillinger, a graduate in robotics.

“It's really a great feeling to connect with the past through this new technology, and entering the lives of our ancestors is a great honor for me,” says researcher Julian.

Helping to identify letters and words was the team from the São Carlos Institute of Physics at USP one of the three that shared second place in the challenge.

The dispute will last until the end of 2024, by which time scientists hope to have unraveled most of these ancient writings. The “Vesuvius Challenge” is just beginning.

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