‘Vesuvius Challenge’ To Pay $1 Million to Whoever Can Decipher Ancient Pompei Scrolls

Many people know about what happened in Pompeii in the first century. Mount Vesuvius was preparing to erupt, and the citizens of Pompeii didn’t evacuate in time.

As a result, the ash from the volcano completely smothered the town and froze it in time. Many people and animals are still frozen in volcanic ash, and it is a fascinating look back into history.

Photo: Flickr/BIG ALBERT

Something else that is interesting about the area is the Herculaneum Papyri. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, they were uncovered about 275 years ago, but nobody knows what they say.

If you have the ability to decipher the language, you may be able to win $1 million. That is what is being offered as part of the “Vesuvius Challenge” for anyone who can read the scrolls uncovered thanks to AI.

People found the papyri in 1750 in a villa that belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. There was a library that had been carbonized due to the heat of the eruption.

Photo: Flickr/BIG ALBERT

Although they uncovered many scrolls at the time, a number of them have been lost since they were discovered. There are about 600 remaining, and because they are so delicate, they have to use technology to look into them.

According to the challenge website, the challenge came about after a doctor from the University of Kentucky was able to unwrap the scrolls virtually. X-ray tomography was used on the carbonized scrolls to open them digitally.

Researchers could see the contrast on the X-ray image as the ink would show darker. They could then flatten and make it possible to read what was written, although nobody is sure what they say.

A particle accelerator was used to scan the two rolls and some fragments. They are Italian documents, but it is still difficult to say what is within them. That is where the challenge comes in.

Daniel Gross and former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman are funding the prize money for the contest, and Nat shared about it on Twitter. You can win $700,000 if you use AI to scan and read at least four separate passages of continuous text from the scrolls. They also have to be at least 140 characters long.

This must be done by the end of December 2023. They also are offering a $100,000 prize for the team that detects ink and $200,000 for something that has yet to be announced. You can learn more on the website here.

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