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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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Last fall we reported [] 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 [] via X (formerly Twitter) that they have awarded the grand prize [] 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 [], the ancient Roman resort town Pompeii wasn't the only city destroyed in the catastrophic 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius []. 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 [] 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 [] 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 []) to unroll the scroll virtually.
In October [], Farritor, a college student and SpaceX intern, successfully read the first text [] hidden within one of the rolled-up scrolls using a machine-learning model. The achievement [] 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 [] Garrett Ryan wrote on the Vesuvius Challenge site []. "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 [] - 20191006
'Raiders of Found Ark' Decipher Ancient Biblical Scroll, Without Unrolling It [] - 20160922
3D Scanning Deciphers Ancient Hebrew Scroll [] - 20150722

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