AI breakthrough enables scientists to read Roman scrolls once buried by Mount Vesuvius

Key Points:

  • The Vesuvius Challenge was a contest launched to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to read mysterious ancient scrolls without touching them.
  • The winning team of the challenge, consisting of students, submitted 15 columns of text about the pleasure humans find in scarce or abundant goods like food.
  • The challenge marks a pivotal moment in the quest to read the Herculaneum scrolls, with significant progress made through AI, tomography, and computation.


The Vesuvius Challenge, a historic endeavor initiated by University of Kentucky researcher Brent Seales, former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, and investor Daniel Gross, has unraveled fascinating insights from the ancient Herculaneum scrolls after a volcanic eruption and two thousand years. This international effort combined CT scans, machine learning, and tech expertise to decipher the scrolls without physical contact, ultimately revealing texts about the human perception of pleasure related to food.


The Challenge awarded $700,000 to the winning trio of students – Youssef Nader, Luke Farritor, and Julian Schilliger – for their submission deciphering text columns. Seales, who has dedicated two decades to unlocking the scrolls, affirms that the contest has propelled progress equivalent to a decade of human effort within just a few months.


Despite technical hurdles such as segmentation and ink detection, Seales and his team have made remarkable strides in unraveling the scrolls’ content, marking a pivotal moment in their quest for knowledge. The transformative power of AI and modern technologies in archaeological endeavors is awe-inspiring, hinting at potential future breakthroughs in deciphering other ancient texts.


The significance of uncovering these ancient manuscripts lies beyond academic curiosity; it embodies a connection to humanity’s past, offering profound insights into topics that endure across ages like love, war, music, poetry, and the timeless allure of food. As Seales emphasizes, delving into these texts is essential for comprehending human history and fostering a common understanding that transcends boundaries and divisions, ultimately enriching our collective narrative.



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