The document disappeared two millennia ago. It talks about the dynasties that succeeded Alexander the Great. What happened to it? It was partially destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Centuries later, it was given to Napoleon Bonaparte. But now we can read the rescued text with artificial intelligence.
Richard Janko is a distinguished university professor of classical studies at the University of Michigan. He explained that only small parts of the badly damaged text can be read at this time. “It contains the names of several Macedonian dynasties and Alexander’s generals.” In addition, he noted that it also includes several mentions of the conqueror himself. It was after the Macedonian king died in 323 BC.
Text rescued with artificial intelligence speaks of Alexander the Great.
Training a software
The lost book is from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. It was a city that was destroyed next to Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The villa was named for its vast papyrus scrolls. And it contains numerous writings of the philosopher Philodemus (lived around 110 BC to 30 BC). These papyri were charred when the volcano erupted.
At some point, the text was found and given to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804. He in turn gave it to the Institut de France in Paris, where it now resides. In 1986, an attempt to unroll the papyrus caused further damage to it.
To discover the secrets of the papyrus, machine learning is used. A computer program was trained. It will detect ink on ancient papyrus and scrolls with computed tomography (CT) scans. These take thousands of X-rays to make 3D digital images.
Searching for secrets
Professor Janko noted that the work being done is gradually making the text more readable. “With each iteration, the readability of these fragments is improving,” the expert noted.
The text rescued with artificial intelligence will undoubtedly reveal some secrets. But much of the scroll remains a mystery. The author of the text is unknown. Nor is it clear why it was inside the villa. Richard Janko notes that many of the texts in the villa were written by Philodemus and speak of philosophy, not history.