The Vesuvius Challenge is a competition that awards those who can read the scrolls of Herculaneum, which were buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Luke Farritor, a 21-year-old computer science student, became the first winner of the challenge by successfully identifying the first 10 characters of the scroll without unrolling it, earning him a $40,000 prize.
Although the Herculaneum scrolls cannot be read in their entirety, some fragments have managed to come loose. Prior to this, Professor Brent Seales’ research team discovered ink markings from CT scans, giving hope that the text within the scrolls could be read without having to unravel them. By examining the scan images and identifying cracks on the scroll, Farritor created a machine learning model to detect these cracks and gradually label more data, allowing for the emergence of more identifiable written content.
The first word that was discovered was “ΠΟΡΦΥΡΑϹ,” which translates to “purple.” However, there is still some debate about whether it could be another word with a similar spelling, as the lack of surrounding context makes it difficult to make a definitive conclusion.
Before the winners were announced, Youssef Nader, an Egyptian student, used an improved machine learning model based on the competition results. After seeing Farritor’s progress in identifying characters, Nader decided to investigate in the same area and continuously refine the model. As a result, he was able to read more of the text and ultimately uncovered two words, “ανυοντα” and “ομοιων,” earning him a $10,000 prize.
The grand prize for the Vesuvius Challenge is a staggering $700,000, awarded to someone who can read four sets of text from two scrolls, totaling at least 140 characters, by December 31st.
TLDR: The Vesuvius Challenge rewards individuals who can read the scrolls of Herculaneum, even if they cannot be fully unraveled. Luke Farritor and Youssef Nader utilized machine learning models to detect cracks and uncover hidden text within the scrolls, earning them substantial prizes. The grand prize remains open for anyone who can read a significant amount of text by the end of the year.