The famous Herculaneum papyri, the charred papyrus found buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, has been deciphered with the help of artificial intelligence.

The feat was achieved by students in the Vesuvius challenge competition, who used algorithms to scan the artefact, as there was a risk that it would be damaged if they attempted to open it by hand.

The winning team read more than 2,000 texts “never seen before” which referred to sources of pleasure such as music, the taste of capers and the color purple.

The three students, from Egypt, Switzerland and the US, will share a $700,000 grand prize for uncovering hundreds of words in more than 15 columns of text, corresponding to about five percent of the papyrus.

The Vesuvius Challenge was launched in March 2023 by Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky, and Silicon Valley supporters.

At that time, Seales released thousands of 3D images of two rolled papyrias well as an artificial intelligence program that was trained to read letters from marks left by ink.

Shortly thereafter, Luke Farritor from Nebraska and Youssef Nader of Egypt separately revealed the same word hidden in the heart of the sealed manuscript, “purplec”, meaning purple dye or clothing made of purple. The pair shared a $40,000 prize.

The eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. destroyed the settlements of Pompeiiof Herculaneum, Torre Annunziata and Stabiae, killing thousands.

Hundreds of texts from the Herculaneum library were buried and charred by the ash and gases.

The charred papyri reappeared in 1752 in a villa near the Bay of Naples once believed to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, but their contents remained a mystery as scientists deemed them too fragile to open.

The AI ​​program was trained to read the ink both on the surface and in the non-visible layers of the closed papyri, according to Nature.

The central theme of the text is pleasure, which if properly understood is the heart of Epicurean philosophy.

The author of the ancient Greek text is believed to be Philodimus, a philosopher who lived in the villa where the papyrus was found.

In two excerpts from two consecutive columns of the papyrus, the author shared his concern about whether and how the availability of goods, such as food, might affect the pleasure they provide.

The ancient Greek text says: “As in the case of food, we do not immediately believe that things that are scarce are absolutely more pleasant than things that are abundant.”

“Yet is it easier for us to be deprived of things that are abundant? “Such questions will be asked often.”