Monday, November 20, 2023

Profile of the Vesuvius Challenge prizewinner

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Husker is first to decode word on ancient scroll. FARRITOR’S EFFORTS MAY HELP DOUBLE AMOUNT OF READABLE TEXT FROM GRECO-ROMAN ERA (Scott Schrage, University of Nebraska–Lincoln).
Greek letters are not difficult to find at a place like Nebraska U, where sigmas, thetas, deltas, kappas and epsilons grace plenty of signs and even more sweatshirts. But Farritor is busy training his eyes, and his model, on digitized scraps of an ancient document that lends fresh meaning to invisible ink and purple prose. That document — a rolled-up papyrus scroll charred into a lump of carbon by Italy’s Mount Vesuvius, which famously smothered Pompeii and, less famously, nearby Herculaneum in A.D. 79 — had gone unread for nearly two millennia.

Most feared it always would. If Vesuvius has seared that fateful day into history textbooks, it also burned away many of the era’s own texts, leaving the remnants under 60-plus feet of volcanic mud. And it left scant hope that the scroll, or hundreds of others excavated from a Herculaneum library — the last of its kind — would ever yield its words.

Until, in October, [UN-L Senior Luke] Farritor joined Brent Seales and researchers at the University of Kentucky for a news conference that would jar the world, igniting the hope of doubling the readable text from Greco-Roman antiquity.

“If we can do this, and I’m very confident we can,” Farritor said, “this will probably be the largest revelation of text from the ancient world since the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

That sounds about right.

Background here. For many PaleoJudaica posts on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE and its destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and on the efforts to reconstruct and decipher the carbonized library at Herculaneum, follow the links from there.

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