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AI reads text from ancient Herculaneum scroll for the first time

Machine-learning technique reveals Greek words in CT scans of rolled-up papyrus.
Charred scrolls from Herculaneum
© UK Photo
Charred scrolls from Herculaneum can’t be opened easily, but X-ray scanning can reveal their contents.
A 21-year-old computer-science student has won a global contest to read the first text inside a carbonized scroll from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, which had been unreadable since a volcanic eruption in AD 79 — the same one that buried nearby Pompeii. The breakthrough could open up hundreds of texts from the only intact library to survive from Greco-Roman antiquity.

Luke Farritor, who is at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, developed a machine-learning algorithm that has detected Greek letters on several lines of the rolled-up papyrus, including πορϕυρας (porphyras), meaning 'purple'. Farritor used subtle, small-scale differences in surface texture to train his neural network and highlight the ink.

"When I saw the first image, I was shocked," says Federica Nicolardi, a papyrologist at the University of Naples in Italy and a member of the academic committee that reviewed Farritor's findings. "It was such a dream," she says. Now, "I can actually see something from the inside of a scroll."

Hundreds of scrolls were buried by Mount Vesuvius in October AD 79, when the eruption left Herculaneum under 20 metres of volcanic ash. Early attempts to open the papyri created a mess of fragments, and scholars feared the remainder could never be unrolled or read. "These are such crazy objects. They're all crumpled and crushed," says Nicolardi.

The Vesuvius Challenge offers a series of awards, leading to a main prize of US$700,000 for reading four or more passages from a rolled-up scroll. On 12 October, the organizers announced that Farritor has won the 'first letters' prize of $40,000 for reading more than 10 characters in a 4-square-centimetre area of papyrus. Youssef Nader, a graduate student at the Free University of Berlin, is awarded $10,000 for coming second.


Scientist deciphered hieroglyphs discovered inside the Yerkapı Tunnel in Hattusa

© Anatolian Archaeology
The deciphering of the Anatolian hieroglyphs discovered during last year's Hattusa excavations, led by Prof. Dr. Andreas Schachner, has been completed.

The Anatolian hieroglyphs discovered in the Yerkapı Tunnel in Hattusa last year revealed new information about the person responsible for constructing the tunnel. The hieroglyphs contain the name and title of the individual in charge of the tunnel's construction.

The inscriptions discovered last year by Associate Professor Dr. Bülent Genç, a faculty member of the Archaeology Department at Mardin Artuklu University, consist of 249 symbols drawn with root dye and are approximately 3,500 years old.

In the hieroglyphs found at the western and eastern ends of the tunnel, it is understood that a person named 'Arişadu' was responsible for the construction of the tunnel. This information is considered the most significant discovery regarding the tunnel's construction.

In the hieroglyphs found on the western side of the tunnel, there are also symbols for 'Tuthaliya Mountain' and 'road.' The combination of these symbols suggests that the tunnel was constructed as a road leading to Tuthaliya Mountain.

Eye 1

Decades before Snowden, an American patriot waged war against illegal surveillance in the US

Christopher Pyle whistleblower domestic surveillance u.s.
© Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Former undercover agent Christopher Pyle testifies before the Senate Constitutional Rights subcommittee that the Army has spied on politicians and thousands of ordinary Americans on February 24, 1971.
In the 1970s, US Army Captain Christopher Pyle blew the lid on government agencies' domestic spying

In 1970, a US Army captain went rogue after he discovered that the military was conducting surveillance on dissidents across the country, thus sparking the first effort in modern times to tame US intelligence.

In 1968, almost half a century before the world heard the name of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who blew the whistle on a US-run global surveillance system, Christopher Pyle, an Army captain who taught law at the Army's intelligence school at Fort Holabird, Maryland, was about to do something no less memorable.

After Pyle had concluded one of his popular lectures on civil disorder, which focused on how the military could better quell riots in those highly volatile times, a military officer directly involved in such operations approached him with the request for a meeting. Several days later, Pyle was escorted into a large warehouse facility that once had been used to assemble railroad engines. In his 2006 book, No Place to Hide, Robert O'Harrow described what happened next.


Roman frescoes in perfect condition discovered in Naples

Roman Frescoes
© Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’Area Metropolitana di Napoli
The Roman frescoes perfectly preserved in the Cerberus tomb discovered in Giugliano.
Waterworks in Giugliano, a suburb of Campania (Naples), have uncovered an untouched chamber tomb full of frescoes ceilings, and walls in pristine condition.

The tomb was found on farmland during an archaeological survey in advance of updates to the city water supply system.

The room has the ceiling and walls frescoed with mythological scenes, Ichthyocentaurs (a pair of sea gods with the upper bodies of men) holding a clypeus on the front wall, festoons that go all around the funerary chamber, and figurative representations among which a three-headed dog stands out, hence the name of the mausoleum as the Tomb of Cerberus.

The striking painting that has given the tomb its monicker depicts the 12th and most dangerous of the Labors of Hercules: when he descended to Hades guided by Mercury to capture the three-headed monster dog Cerberus.


1,400-year-old gold figures depicting Norse gods unearthed at former pagan temple

gold figures dig site norway hov
© Museum of Cultural History / University of Oslo
Aerial view captured by a drone of the excavation site. The temple was situated between the modern-day E6 highway and the county road.
gullglubber gold figures norway frey gerd pagans
© The Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
Known as "gullglubber," the gold-foil figure depicts the god Frøy and the goddess Gerd.
Archaeologists in Norway unearthed dozens of tiny gold-foil figures at a former pagan temple.

Archaeologists have discovered 35 miniature gold-foil depictions of Norse gods tucked inside the remnants of a pagan temple in Norway.

The gold foils, which are flat and as thin as a piece of paper, contain etched motifs depicting the god Frøy and the goddess Gerd and date to the Merovingian period in Norway, which began in 550 and continued into the Viking Age, according to Science Norway. The foils may have been used as sacrificial offerings.

The gold pieces lack holes, so it's unlikely that they were worn as jewelry. The first gold foils were discovered in Scandinavia in 1725 and were eventually labeled as "gullglubber," which translates to "golden old men."


The oldest evidence of human cannibalism as a funerary practice in Europe

Human Skull
© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London By Oğuz Büyükyıldırım
A human skull from Gough’s Cave was deliberately shaped into a cup after having its flesh removed.
According to a new study, cannibalism was a common funerary practice in northern Europe around 15,000 years ago, with people eating their dead not out of necessity but rather as part of their culture.

Gough's Cave is a well-known paleolithic site in south-eastern England. Nestled in the Cheddar Gorge, the cave is perhaps best known for the discovery of 15,000 years old human skulls shaped into what are believed to have been cups and bones that had been gnawed by other humans.

A study published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews suggests this was not an isolated incident. Their research focused on the Magdalenian period of the late Upper Paleolithic era. The Magdalenians lived some 11,000 to 17,000 years ago.

Experts at London's National History Museum reviewed the literature to identify 59 Magdalenian sites that have human remains. Most were in France, with sites also in Germany, Spain, Russia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Portugal. They were able to interpret the funerary behaviors at 25 of the sites.

The ritualistic manipulation of human remains and its frequent occurrence at sites across northern and western Europe suggested cannibalism was a burial practice - rather than to supplement diet - widespread in Magdalenian culture, researchers said.

'Instead of burying their dead, these people were eating them,' explains Dr. Silvia Bello, an expert on the evolution of human behaviour working at the Natural History Museum. 'We interpret the evidence that cannibalism was practiced on multiple occasions across north-western Europe over a short period of time, as this practice was part of a diffuse funerary behaviour among Magdalenian groups.'

'That in itself is interesting, because it is the oldest evidence of cannibalism as a funerary practice.'

This cannibalistic behaviour was seemingly fairly common amongst Magdalenian people of north-western Europe, but it didn't last particularly long. There was a shift towards people burying their dead, a behaviour seen widely across south-central Europe and attributed to a second distinct culture, known as the Epigravettian.

This then raises the question of whether the eventual relative ubiquity of burial culture towards the end of the Palaeolithic was the result of Magdalenian people adopting primary burial as a funerary behaviour, or if their population was replaced.


Scott Ritter: No 'end of history' in Ukraine

© Fronteiras do Pensamento/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
Francis Fukuyama in 2016
Francis Fukuyama's triumphalist post-Cold War vision of liberal democracy — published in 1989 — had a major blindspot. It omitted history.
"What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
These words, written by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, who in 1989 published "The End of History," an article that turned the academic world upside down.

Fukuyama wrote:
"Liberal democracy replaces the irrational desire to be recognized as greater than others with a rational desire to be recognized as equal.

"A world made up of liberal democracies, then, should have much less incentive for war, since all nations would reciprocally recognize one another's legitimacy. And indeed, there is substantial empirical evidence from the past couple of hundred years that liberal democracies do not behave imperialistically toward one another, even if they are perfectly capable of going to war with states that are not democracies and do not share their fundamental values."
But there was a catch.


100-year-old origin theory of Stonehenge's iconic Altar Stone could be wrong, scientists say

© Drone Explorer/Shutterstock
A new analysis of the Altar Stone at Stonehenge suggests it may have come from as far north as Scotland, allowing for "creative thinking" about its archaeological significance.

The largest stone in Stonehenge's inner circle, known as the Altar Stone, may have come from farther afield than its neighboring monoliths — possibly even from northern England or Scotland, according to a new study that questions a 100-year-old idea about the stone's origins.

A century has passed since British geologist Herbert Henry Thomas published his seminal 1923 study on Stonehenge, in which he traced the origin of the "bluestones" that make up the monument's inner circle to the Preseli Hills in western Wales. Among these bluestones — so called because they acquire a bluish tinge when wet or freshly broken and to distinguish them from the "sarsen" stones that make up the outer circle — Thomas included a 16-foot-long (4.9 meters) flat-lying, gray-green slab of stone known as the Altar Stone.

"It seems as though he wanted all the non-sarsen stones to come from a limited geographic area and this basic assertion has not been challenged for 100 years," Richard Bevins, an honorary professor of geology and Earth sciences at Aberystwyth University in Wales who led the new research, told Live Science in an email.


The Lost Men of Carrhae: The Enigma of a Roman Legion in Ancient China

A man from Liqian, China
© Johnathon Kos-Read/ CC BY ND 2.0
A man in Liqian, China. There is debate whether his village was inhabited by Roman soldiers from the lost legion of Carrhae.
Rome and China stand as two monumental civilizations that significantly influenced the societies under their dominion. Despite their immense impact, these two cultures seemingly remained largely separate from one another. Consequently, any instances of interaction between them have intrigued historians. Such captivating tales include the legend of Carrhae's lost legion, believed by some to have found their way to Liqian, China.

Comment: Roman Descendants Found in China?


New statues found in Göbeklitepe and Karahantepe: The first painted neolithic statue was discovered

New Statues Composite
© Arkeolojik Haber
New discoveries that will leave their mark on art history were made during the Stone Hills (Taş Tepeler) archaeological excavations. The first painted neolithic statue was unearthed from Göbeklitepe. The 2.3 meter high human statue in Karahantepe evokes a seated person with ribs, spine and shoulder bones emphasized. Remains of red, white and black pigments attract attention on the surface of the life-size wild boar statue made of limestone in Structure D of Göbeklitepe

New finds were discovered in Göbeklitepe and Karahantepe. At around 12,000 years old, Göbekli Tepe is the world's oldest megalithic site - and it has a "sister site" called Karahantepe.

A recent discovery in the world's oldest religious sanctuary, Göbeklitepe, "Potbelly Hill" in Turkish, which is described as the "zero point of history" has revealed a painted wild boar statue.

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Göbeklitepe has changed the way historians and archaeologists think about the cradle of civilization. And there is so much more to be discovered.

A painted wild boar statue was discovered during ongoing excavations in Göbeklitepe. The artifact, which contained red, white, and black pigment residues on its surface, was the first painted sculpture found from its period to the present day.

As part of the Taş Tepeler project, which sheds light on prehistory and has seen highly significant discoveries on a global scale, the archaeological excavations carried out in 2023 in 9 different areas have recently led to the discovery of human and animal statues.