Damaged ancient papyrus scrolls dating back to the 1st century CE are finally being deciphered by the Vesuvius Challenge contest winners using computer vision and AI machine learning programs, Popular Science reported.
Three winners–Luke Farritor (US), Youssef Nader (Egypt), and Julian Schilliger (Switzerland)–will split the $700,000 grand prize after deciphering roughly 2,000 characters making up 15 columns of never-before-seen Greek texts.
The scrolls were carbonized during the eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE and have been all-but-inaccessible using normal restoration methods, as they have been reduced to a fragile, charred log.
The scrolls once resided within a villa library believed to belong to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, south of Pompeii in the town of Herculaneum.
Upon its eruption, Mount Vesuvius’ historic volcanic blast near-instantly torched the library before subsequently burying it in ash and pumice.
The carbonized scrolls remained lost for centuries until rediscovered by a farmer in 1752.
In 2019, around 270 “Villa of the Papyri” scrolls still remained inaccessible—a lingering mystery prompting a team at the University of Kentucky to 3D scan the archive and launch the Vesuvius Challenge in 2023.