The En-Gedi scroll, discovered in the Dead Sea region of Israel.

For all 3D imaging experts, computer scientists, and A.I. engineers, if you haven’t heard, there is a $1-million prize for deciphering the world’s largest collection of manuscripts from antiquity—the Herculaneum Scrolls, which are too fragile to unroll after being burned in the Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 CE.

The scrolls were preserved through a unique carbonization process during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. but remain largely unreadable due to their fragile condition. The competition seeks innovative solutions to virtually unroll and read the scrolls without causing damage. Competitors from around the world are invited to participate, and the winning entry will receive a substantial cash prize. This competition represents a collaborative effort to unlock the valuable information within these ancient texts and to shed light on the intellectual and cultural heritage of the past.

Dr. Brent Seales and his team at the University of Kentucky pioneered virtual unwrapping by using X-ray tomography and computer vision to read the En-Gedi scroll without opening it. Discovered in the Dead Sea region of Israel, the scroll is found to contain text from the book of Leviticus. They demonstrated that a carbonized scroll can be digitally unrolled and read.The Herculaneum Papyri prove more challenging because the Herculaneum ink is carbon-based, affording no X-ray contrast against the underlying carbon-based papyrus.

The Micro Photonics’ team is happy to have contributed to the amazing work by Dr. Brent Seales and his stellar team at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Seales’ team is releasing its software and 3D X-ray images of two rolled-up scrolls and three papyrus fragments to assist with the competition. We are excited to see such great strides being made in such a short time by the Vesuvius Challenge!


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