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Trio wins $700K Vesuvius Challenge grand prize for deciphering ancient scroll

Accepted submission by Freeman at 2024-02-06 15:57:00 from the who reads those anyway dept.
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https://arstechnica.com/science/2024/02/trio-wins-700k-vesuvius-challenge-grand-prize-for-deciphering-ancient-scroll/ [arstechnica.com]

Last fall we reported [arstechnica.com] on the use of machine learning to decipher the first letters from a previously unreadable ancient scroll found in an ancient Roman villa at Herculaneum—part of the 2023 Vesuvius Challenge. Tech entrepreneur and challenge co-founder Nat Friedman has now announced [twitter.com] via X (formerly Twitter) that they have awarded the grand prize [scrollprize.org] of $700,000 for producing the first readable text. The three winning team members are Luke Farritor, Yousef Nader, and Julian Schilliger.

As previously reported [arstechnica.com], the ancient Roman resort town Pompeii wasn't the only city destroyed in the catastrophic 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius [gizmodo.com]. Several other cities in the area, including the wealthy enclave of Herculaneum, were fried by clouds of hot gas called pyroclastic pulses and flows.
[...]
Brent Searles' lab at the University of Kentucky has been working on deciphering the Herculaneum scrolls for many years. He employs a different method [gizmodo.com] of "virtually unrolling" damaged scrolls, which he used in 2016 to "open" a scroll found on the western shore of the Dead Sea, revealing the first few verses from the book of Leviticus. The team's approach combined [sciencemag.org] digital scanning with micro-computed tomography—a noninvasive technique often used for cancer imaging—with segmentation to digitally create pages, augmented with texturing and flattening techniques. Then they developed software (Volume Cartography [wikipedia.org]) to unroll the scroll virtually.
[...]
In October [arstechnica.com], Farritor, a college student and SpaceX intern, successfully read the first text [scrollprize.org] hidden within one of the rolled-up scrolls using a machine-learning model. The achievement [nature.com] snagged him $40,000. Nader, an Egyptian bio-robotics student in Berlin, received a smaller $10,000 First Ink prize for essentially being the second person to decipher letters in a scroll. Schilliger, a Swiss robotics student at ETH Zurich, won three Segmentation Tooling prizes, which enabled 3D mapping of the papyrus.

Schilliger, Farritor, and Nader then formed a "superteam" to create the winning entry, extracting 15 columns of text from inside the carbonized scroll. In addition, there was a three-way tie for runner-up, with each entry winning $50,000 for devising new approaches to the subtleties of ink labeling and sampling: Shao-Qian Mah; Louis Schlessinger and Arefeh Sherafati; and Elian Rafael Dal Prá, Sean Johnson, Leonardo Scabini, Raí Fernando Dal Prá, João Vitor Brentigani Torezan, Daniel Baldin Franceschini, Bruno Pereira Kellm, Marcelo Soccol Gris, and Odemir Martinez Bruno.
[...]
The Vesuvius Challenge co-founders thought when they started the challenge that there was less than a 30 percent chance of success within the year, since, at the time, no one had been able to read actual letters inside of a scroll. However, the crowdsourcing approach proved wildly successful. It's still just 5 percent of a single scroll, so Friedman, Searles, and Gross have announced a new challenge for 2024: $100,000 for the first entry that can read 90 percent of the four scrolls scanned thus far.
[...]
"We have not yet found the villa’s main library, which would have contained a much wider range of Greek and Latin literature," historian [toldinstone.com] Garrett Ryan wrote on the Vesuvius Challenge site [scrollprize.org]. "That library, with its thousands or even tens of thousands of scrolls, must still be buried. If those texts are discovered, and if even a small fraction can still be read, they will transform our knowledge of classical life and literature on a scale not seen since the Renaissance.”

Previously on SoylentNews:
Ultra Fragile Scrolls Buried by Vesuvius to be Virtually Unrolled [soylentnews.org] - 20191006
'Raiders of Found Ark' Decipher Ancient Biblical Scroll, Without Unrolling It [soylentnews.org] - 20160922
3D Scanning Deciphers Ancient Hebrew Scroll [soylentnews.org] - 20150722


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