It’s a new historical discovery on Alexander the Great. A 2,000-year-old scroll that discusses the history of the dynasties that succeeded the reign of Alexander the Great has been deciphered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). This precious text was partially destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE and had been offered to Napoleon Bonaparte.
Richard Janko, the professor at the University of Michigan in charge of the study, and his team used machine learning, an algorithm that helps AI detect traces of ink on a page and decipher its meaning, to decode this mysterious document. The teams were assisted by Brent Seales, director of the Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky, who used computed tomography (CT) scans to take thousands of X-rays to produce digital 3D images.
During the presentation of the study, Richard Janko explained that the team’s work gradually made more of the text legible, reported Live Science. “With each iteration of his [Seales] work, the ability to read more of these fragments is getting better every time,” he said.
The content of the text traces the reign of Alexander the Great
“It’s probably a lost work,” Janko said at a presentation to the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies in New Orleans in January.
Due to damage caused by the eruption of Vesuvius, only small parts of the text can be read at the moment. “It contains the names of a number of Macedonian dynasts and generals of Alexander,” Janko said, noting that the text also includes “several mentions of Alexander himself.” According to Live Science, the text notably mentions the Macedonian generals Seleucus, who ruled a large amount of territory in the Middle East, and Cassander, who dominated Greece after Alexander’s death in 323 BCE.
The origin of this scroll remains a mystery
Most of the scroll remains a mystery to this day and its author is still unknown. Researchers said it was found in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, a town near Pompeii that was also affected by the eruption of Vesuvius. The house bore this name due the many papyrus scrolls found inside.
This particular charred scroll was found in 1804 and given to Napoleon Bonaparte. The emperor then entrusted it to the Institut de France, in Paris, where it remains today. An attempt to unroll the scroll in 1986 caused further damage, Richard Janko said. The University of Michigan professor said that the study of the text is ongoing.
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