According to a report by BBC Türkçe, Lufe Farritor, a 21-year-old computer engineering student at Nebraska-Lincoln University, has become the first person to decipher a word from the Herculaneum documents.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in present-day Italy were destroyed. Ancient documents written on papyrus were also buried and turned to coal.
The ancient papyrus scrolls remained buried under 20 meters of volcanic mud, ash, and pumice for nearly 2,000 years.
The documents were found in a villa that is thought to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, the famous Roman general and statesman who proclaimed himself emperor and was later assassinated.
When the ancient ruins of Pompeii were first brought to light in the 1700s, more than 600 papyrus documents were also found.
They were preserved thanks to the volcanic eruption, but they were so fragile that they would crumble to dust if handled incorrectly. It had been impossible to read these scrolls without opening them and damaging them for hundreds of years.
To read these Herculaneum documents, a machine learning and computer imaging competition called the Vesuvius Challenge was held in March.
The University of Kentucky in the United States called on students and experts to use artificial intelligence to decipher words from the X-rays of the unopened paper scrolls.
The X-rays were taken in 2019 by Professor Berent Seales of the same university, using very high-resolution three-dimensional imaging.
Computer engineering student Lufe Farritor developed an artificial intelligence program that detects charred ancient letters in the papyrus and was able to find about 10 letters.
‘I almost cried’ Papyrus experts later managed to find the word “porphyro/ πορφυρας”, which is used for a mixture of purple and red, which is considered the imperial color in ancient Greek.
Farritor needed to find at least 10 letters in an area of 4 square centimeters to win the $40,000 prize.
At a press conference to announce the discovery, Farritor said, “I saw the letters and I was completely crazy. I almost fell and started to cry.”