3 Students Deciphered Part of an Ancient Scroll Burned in the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Back in early 2023, Nat Friedman, former CEO of GitHub, announced a Vesuvius Challenge that had the goal of deciphering an ancient scroll that was fused together in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Anyone willing to dedicate their time to the project could take part in examining deep scans of the scroll while competing for a $1 million cash prize.

Earlier this month, Friedman shared that the challenge was a success. A team of three students managed to decipher part of the ancient scroll with the help of Artificial Intelligence and identify more than 2,000 Greek letters that are contained in fifteen columns. They were presented with a prize of $700,000.

“The author – probably Epicurean philosopher Philodemus – writes here about music, food, and how to enjoy life’s pleasures. In the closing section, he throws shade at unnamed ideological adversaries – perhaps the stoics? – who “have nothing to say about pleasure, either in general or in particular,” Friedman shared on social media.

The ancient scroll was found in the ruins of a library in the ancient town of Herculaneum. The same library contains a large number of other scrolls, but they were all fused together by heat from the eruption, and unfolding them would turn them into dust. However, the success of the Vesuvius Challenge shows that eventually, those scrolls could become readable and reveal new information about the ancient world.

According to Friedman, only 5% of one scroll can be read. He is now adding another $100,000 to the prize fund, which will go to a team that manages to decipher “90% of all four scrolls” that were scanned to date.

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