AI and Ancient Wisdom – AI Deciphers 2000-Year-Old Buried Scroll


  • A team wins the Vesuvius Challenge and receives a $700,000 grand prize for using AI to decipher an ancient papyrus scroll buried by Mount Vesuvius’s eruption 2000 years ago.
  • The deciphered text reveals never-before-seen musings from Greek philosopher Philodemus, shedding light on his Epicurean school of philosophy.
  • The Vesuvius Challenge continues in 2024, aiming to scale up 3D scanning and digital analysis techniques to decipher more scrolls, but faces challenges due to high costs.

In a revelation facilitated by artificial intelligence, a team of researchers has successfully deciphered an ancient papyrus scroll buried for over two millennia beneath the volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in AD 79, revealing profound insights into AI and ancient wisdom. The winning entry in the Vesuvius Challenge, led by Youssef Nader, Luke Farritor, and Julian Schilliger, utilized 3D mapping and AI techniques to unveil the thoughts of a Greek philosopher, Philodemus, shedding new light on ancient philosophical perspectives.

The Vesuvius Challenge, with its $700,000 grand prize, has opened the door to unprecedented insights into the past. The combination of advanced technology and historical curiosity has paved the way for a deeper understanding of ancient philosophical ideas, particularly those housed in the Herculaneum papyri—a collection of scrolls that once resided in the library of the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum.

The discovery – Unlocking Philodemus’s musings

The winning team’s approach involved a combination of 3D mapping and AI techniques applied to digitally scanned segments of the Herculaneum papyri. This innovative method successfully detected ink and deciphered letter shapes within the ancient scrolls, transforming what seemed like a lump of blackened carbon into a treasure trove of philosophical musings. The criteria set by the Vesuvius Challenge were met, with more than 85% of characters deciphered in four passages, along with an additional 11 columns of text, totaling over 2000 characters.

Michael McOsker, a scholar at the University College London, not directly involved in the discovery, expressed enthusiasm about the potential impact on our understanding of ancient philosophy. The deciphered text, attributed to Philodemus, delves into the Epicurean school of thought, emphasizing the impact of scarcity or abundance of food and goods on the pleasure they deliver. Interestingly, Philodemus’s writing seems to take a subtle jab at the Stoic school of philosophy, highlighting their silence on the topic of pleasure.

The future of Vesuvius challenge – Scaling up and cost challenges

As the victorious team basks in the glory of their discovery, the Vesuvius Challenge looks toward the future. The 2024 goals include addressing the challenge of scaling up the 3D scanning and digital analysis techniques without incurring exorbitant costs. Currently, the techniques cost $100 per square centimeter, making the virtual unrolling of an entire scroll an expensive endeavor, estimated between $1 million and $5 million. With 800 scrolls waiting to be deciphered, the financial hurdles present a significant obstacle.

McOsker, while acknowledging the prevalence of Epicurean philosophy in the known, already unrolled library, anticipates the discovery of important Stoic texts, historical accounts, and Latin literature. The potential revelation of complete texts from early Roman authors like Ennius or Livius Andronicus, whose works did not survive, holds immense significance. McOsker concludes with an optimistic yet challenging prospect, expressing excitement about the possible deciphering of Epicurus’s Symposium, a text that delves into the biology of wine consumption.

Unveiling the future – AI and ancient wisdom

As the Vesuvius Challenge forges ahead into uncharted territories of ancient knowledge, the question that lingers is both tantalizing and daunting: What other treasures and insights lie dormant within the remaining scrolls, and how can the ongoing challenge overcome the financial hurdles to unlock the untold stories of our ancient past? The intersection of AI and archaeology has opened a portal to a world long-buried by time, inviting us to explore the depths of human thought and philosophy in ways previously unimaginable. The journey continues, fueled by curiosity and the relentless pursuit of unraveling the mysteries of antiquity.

Disclaimer. The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.

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Aamir Sheikh

Amir is a media, marketing and content professional working in the digital industry. A veteran in content production Amir is now an enthusiastic cryptocurrency proponent, analyst and writer.

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