Ancient Philosopher's Words Resurface from Volcanic Ash: AI Cracks Greek Papyrus Secrets

Ancient Philosopher's Words Resurface from Volcanic Ash: AI Cracks Greek Papyrus Secrets

Buried for millennia under Pompeii's shadow, an ancient scroll reveals its treasures thanks to AI.

  • A $700,000 prize-winning technique combines 3D mapping and AI to decipher charred scrolls.
  • Philodemus, a resident philosopher, discusses pleasure and philosophy in the unearthed text.
  • Future goals: scaling up for mass deciphering of 800 scrolls, potentially revealing lost works.

From Ashes to Enlightenment:

Volcanic ash entombed these scrolls 2,000 years ago, but AI has breathed new life into them. By deciphering blackened carbon, researchers unlocked the thoughts of Philodemus, offering insights into Epicurean philosophy and potentially critiquing Stoicism.

A Boon for Scholars:

Experts call this "gigantic" for ancient philosophy studies, promising a "staggering amount of new text." Imagine complete works of lost authors like Ennius or Livius Andronicus!

Challenges Ahead:

Scaling up the expensive ($100 per square cm) technique is crucial. Deciphering all 800 scrolls could cost millions.

Beyond Epicurus:

While most scrolls might contain Epicurean texts, researchers hope for Stoic writings, historical accounts, and even Latin literature. Imagine discovering Epicurus's "Symposium" on wine consumption!

In October, Farritor won the challenge’s $40,000 “first letters” prize when he identified the ancient Greek word for “purple”, in the scroll. In November, he teamed up with Nader and Schilliger, who developed an algorithm to automatically unwrap CT images, joining them days before the contest deadline on 31 December. Together, they read over 2,000 letters of the scroll, giving scholars their first real insight into its contents.

This discovery marks a new era in unlocking the past's secrets. With AI as our key, ancient voices can finally be heard, reshaping our understanding of history and philosophy.

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