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Resurrect an ancient library from the ashes of a volcano.
Win Prizes.  Make History. 

The Vesuvius Challenge is a machine learning and computer vision competition that in 2023 cracked the riddle of the Herculaneum Papyri & awarded over $1,000,000 in prizes.

2024's challenge is to go from reading a few passages to entire scrolls.

79 AD
Mount Vesuvius erupts.

In Herculaneum, twenty meters of hot mud and ash bury an enormous villa once owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. Inside, there is a vast library of papyrus scrolls.
The scrolls are carbonized by the heat of the volcanic debris. But they are also preserved. For centuries, as virtually every ancient text exposed to the air decays and disappears, the library of the Villa of the Papyri waits underground, intact.

1750 AD
A farmer discovers the buried villa.

While digging a well, an Italian farmworker encounters a marble pavement. Excavations unearth beautiful statues and frescoes – and hundreds of scrolls. Carbonized and ashen, they are extremely fragile. But the temptation to open them is great; if read, they would significantly increase the corpus of literature we have from antiquity.
Early attempts to open the scrolls unfortunately destroy many of them. A few are painstakingly unrolled by a monk over several decades, and they are found to contain philosophical texts written in Greek. More than six hundred remain unopened and unreadable.

2015 AD
Dr. Brent Seales pioneers virtual unwrapping.

Using X-ray tomography and computer vision, a team led by Dr. Brent Seales at the University of Kentucky reads 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.
Virtual unwrapping has since emerged as a growing field with multiple successes. Their work went on to show the elusive carbon ink of the Herculaneum scrolls can also be detected using X-ray tomography, laying the foundation for the Vesuvius Challenge.

A remarkable breakthrough.

The Vesuvius Challenge was launched in March 2023 to bring the world together to read the Herculaneum scrolls. Along with smaller progress prizes, a Grand Prize was issued for the first team to recover 4 passages of 140 characters from a Herculaneum scroll.
Following a year of remarkable progress, the prize was claimed. After 275 years, the ancient puzzle of the Herculaneum Papyri has been solved. But the quest to uncover the secrets of the scrolls is just beginning.

The Vesuvius Challenge

2023 was a milestone year that gave us unprecedented access to scrolls that have not been read in two millennia. Incredible teams of engineers helped us unlock these secrets. Learn more about their accomplishments.