A 2,000-year-old papyrus has been partially decoded using artificial intelligence

A 2,000-year-old papyrus has been partially decoded using artificial intelligence

The document, which was charred during the eruption of Volcano Vesuvius in 79 AD, was able to reveal part of its secrets thanks to the work of an American professor and student of computer science and artificial intelligence.

It was charred by lava flows that destroyed the Roman city of Herculaneum in 79 AD. A 2,000-year-old papyrus can be deciphered, in part, thanks to artificial intelligence. After the document has been severely damaged by fire, it cannot be opened or it will be permanently destroyed.

At the origin of the project are Brent Sales, A Professor at the University of Kentucky, in the United States and Luke Faritor, a computer science student at the University of Nebraska. The teacher has been trying for 20 years to find a way to read the oldest papyri, which were too fragile to be opened, like the ones that were decoded. To achieve his goals, he developed a scanner capable of distinguishing ink-painted areas within charred papyrus. It adds an algorithm that can decode what is written on the paper.

With that teacher there Luke Variator, 21 years old, computer science student. He spent several months improving this AI program as part of the Vesuvius Challenge, a competition launched by Brent Sales’ team. His work paid off on August 10 when the student learned during an evening with his friends that he had deciphered the word “porphyras” (purple in Greek).

Years of research for 10 letters

One Saturday evening, very late, I was at a party, The 21-year-old student says in a video, I received a message from one of my Vesuvius Challenge teammates saying: We just received this new papyrusagainst“It looks interesting, it has the patterns we talked about.” I thought this looked interesting. I sat in the corner with my phone and sent a message: Please run the algorithm on this coin. Then I turned off my phone and continued.He narrates the following: “I get home, around one in the morning, I open my phone again and I see letters in Greek appear on the screen, not that clear, but I see them.

“I was so confused, I almost cried.”

Luc Varietor, the student who partially deciphered the papyrus

On the University of Kentucky YouTube channel

Thanks to this discovery, the student received $40,000 through the Vesuvius program and enabled him to achieve great progress. “There’s definitely a little emotionProfessor Brent Sales says in the same video. (…) One of the world’s leading papyrologists will read this document that people thought could not be read due to the difficulty of extracting the text. Today we are talking about this text.

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