Researchers reveal the first fully decoded passages of the famous and incomprehensible Herculaneum Scrolls

After using artificial intelligence to decipher the first word read from a sealed scroll from Herculaneum, a team of researchers has deciphered several passages of the ancient text that are practically complete, providing information on philosophy dating back nearly 2,000 years.

The Herculaneum Scrolls are hundreds of papyri that survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. In their charred state, the ancient documents would have been mutilated if anyone tried to decipher them, and any writing on the surviving fragments was in practice. Cannot be read by the human eye.

Using computer technology and advanced artificial intelligence, researchers are now able to analyze the Herculaneum scrolls without unrolling them and without running the risk of damaging the extremely fragile documents. More than 2,000 characters — the first complete paragraphs — have now been deciphered from the parchment, according to an announcement by computer scientists earlier this month. Challenge VesuviusA competition designed to accelerate discoveries made in scrolls.

“It's incredibly gratifying to know that these things are available and that we now have a mechanism to study them — and that studying them will create a whole course of study and scholarship for classicists,” says Brent Seals, a professor of computational science at the university. Kentucky and co-creator of the Vesuvio Challenge.

A First word to read The unopened scroll was discovered at different times by Luc Farriter and Yussuf Nader – a computational science student at the University of Nebraska and a biorobotics graduate student at the Free University of Berlin. This year, the trio won the competition's $700,000 grand prize, supported by Julian Schilliker, a robotics student at ETH Zurich, after being the first team to decipher more than 85% of the characters from four consecutive passages on a single piece of paper.

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A total of 15 passages were deciphered from the unopened scrolls. The first decoded word, the Greek word for 'purple', was discovered in October 2023 and can be found in newly interpreted passages. (Challenge of Vesuvius)

Also, the team read 15 partial columns beyond what was requested in the competition, corresponding to 5% of the parchment.

The trio deciphered the text by using a technique called “virtual unwrapping” of rolled-up parchment – one of several techniques owned by the Institut de France. Published on the competition website. Computed tomography, a process that involves using an X-ray process to examine curled and deformed papyrus, allows researchers to virtually flatten the parchments and detect the ink on the page with advanced AI. After Farriter, Nader, and Schilliker discovered the Greek letters, papyriologists from England, France, and Italy were invited to evaluate the text.

“If we look at the size of the vocabulary [das passagens]”There's a really nuanced scholarly conversation going on there… I'm excited to hand over what it is to the scholars so they can do their work and then we can fully understand it,” says original creator Seals. method and has been developing technology for nearly 20 years.

Words of an ancient philosopher

More than 1,000 charred parchments have been recovered from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy, which covered the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in volcanic mud. The charred documents, now known as the Herculaneum Scrolls, were recovered from a building believed to have been the home of Julius Caesar's father-in-law. According to the University of Kentucky.

The newly decoded passages are taken from the end of a scroll and reveal the words written by the philosopher Philodemus of Katara, who is believed to be the resident philosopher in the library where the scrolls were found.

In the understood text, Philodemus writes about “pleasure” and whether the abundance of available goods affects the amount of pleasure they produce. “As with food, we do not readily believe that things in scarcity are altogether more pleasant than in abundance”, reads the first sentence.

“Philodemus was rejected for many years because we could not read his passages in detail. With difficulty, we could read only small portions… [Nestas passagens] He tries to persuade his listeners to relax, find good friendships, live in the moment and enjoy pleasures,” he says. Roger Macfarlane, Professor of Classical Studies at Brigham Young University, studied the Herculaneum Scrolls. Macfarlane was not involved in the discovery, but participated in the process of certifying the first word discovered in October.

Seals says he hopes almost all the parchments will be deciphered this year – and the new competition has an even more ambitious goal, awarding 100 thousand dollars (almost 93 thousand euros) to the first team that manages to decipher at least one. 90% of the four scrolls already released Competition website.

“The winners of the Vesuvius challenge will be able to get the actual text, but without it the parchment will be destroyed,” says Macfarlane. “It's the most miraculous thing of all.”

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