21-year-old uses AI to decipher 'unreadable' ancient Roman scroll for first time

What were you dong at 21 years of age? Perhaps you'd just got your first job or even studying in a bid to land that dream career.
Well, this 21-year-old certainly did something not a lot of people his age group can say they've achieved, as he used AI to decipher 'unreadable' ancient Roman scroll for first time, truly making history in the process.

Luke Farritor, a computer science student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, has won a global contest to read the first text inside a carbonized scroll from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum.

Remarkably, the scroll has been unreadable since a volcanic eruption in AD 79, the same one that buried the iconic Pompeii.

This might just be the beginning as the breakthrough could see hundreds of texts from the only intact library to survive from that period in history.
Farritor developed a machine-learning algorithm that has detected Greek letters on several lines of the rolled-up papyrus, including the Greek for 'Purple'.

To make it work, the student used small-scale differences in surface texture to train his network and highlight the ink.

Federica Nicolardi, a papyrologist at the University of Naples in Italy and one of those who reviewed Farritor's findings, said: "When I saw the first image, I was shocked. It was such a dream. I can actually see something from the inside of a scroll."

The history behind these scrolls is quite fascinating, after being buried by Mount Vesuvius in October AD 79, which left Herculaneum under 20 metres of volcanic ash.

Early attempts to open the papyri created somewhat of a mess of fragments, leading to many believing the remainder could never be unrolled or read.

"These are such crazy objects. They’re all crumpled and crushed," added Nicolardi.

While the US student has made history with the Roman scroll, he has also bagged $40,000 for reading more than 10 characters in a 4-square-centimetre area of papyrus.
As per Nature, this is part of the Vesuvius Challenge, which leads to a main prize of $700,000 for reading four or more passages from a rolled-up scroll.

Farritor has been speaking about his findings in a recent press conference, saying: "I saw these letters and I just completely freaked out. I freaked out, almost fell over, almost cried.

"I took a screenshot. I immediately sent it to JP Posma, who sent it to everyone else. I sent it to my family. My mom called and she was like, ‘Hey, like this is the first thing that you sent me that really looks like the letters. This is really cool'."

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