Vesuvius Challenge 2023 Grand Prize Awarded And 2024’s New Challenge

In the year 79 CE, a massive cloud of volcanic ash rained down on the Roman city of Herculaneum after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Along with the city of Pompeii, Herculaneum was subsequently engulfed and buried by a pyroclastic flow that burned everything in its path, including the scrolls in the library of what today is known as the Villa of the Papyri. After the charred but still recognizable scrolls were found in the 18th century, many fruitless attempts were made to recover the text hidden within these charred ruins, but not until 2023 did we get our first full glimpse at their contents, along with the awarding of the Vesuvius Challenge 2023.

We previously covered the run-up to this award, but with only a small fraction of the scrolls now read, there’s still a long way to go. This leads to the 2024 prize challenge, which sees teams strive to read 90% of scrolls 1-4 each, for a $100,000 award. The expectation is that with this ability, it should be possible to read all 800 scrolls known today, but as detailed in the Master Plan there is still more to come. Being able to scan and process scrolls faster and more efficiently is one of the biggest challenges, as is that of recovering any more scrolls that may be stuck in the mud at the Villa of the Papyri. As easy as it may sound to pull stuff out of the mud, archaeological excavations are expensive and time-consuming.

With time running out on how long both the recovered and still lost scrolls will last, it’s pertinent that we do not lose this opportunity to double our knowledge of historical texts from this era.

Roman Dodecahedrons: A Mystifying Archaeological Find

Much about archaeology can be described as trying to figure out the context in which objects and constructions should be interpreted. A good example of this are the metal dodecahedrons (twelve-sided shape) which have been found during archaeological excavations at former Roman sites. Since 1739 over 115 of them have been recorded, most recently a fully intact copper specimen found near the Lincolnshire village of Norton Disney during the Summer of 2023 by a local group of archaeologists.

Two ancient Roman bronze dodecahedrons and an icosahedron (3rd c. AD) in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany. (Credit: Kleon3, Wikimedia)
Two ancient Roman bronze dodecahedrons and an icosahedron (3rd c. AD) in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany. (Credit: Kleon3, Wikimedia)

As the Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group notes on their page, this is the 33rd example of one of these items found in what was once Roman Britain, lending credence to the idea that such dodecahedrons originated within the Gallo-Roman culture.

As for the objects themselves, the ones so far found were dated to between the 2nd and 4th century CE, are all made out of some kind of metal alloy (e.g. bronze), are usually a dodecahedron but sometimes different (e.g. an icosahedron with 20 faces), yet all are hollow and usually with a single large hole in each face. The dodecahedron found at Norton Disney was analyzed to consist out of 75% copper, 7% tin and 18% lead, with a width of 8.6 cm and weighing in at 254 grams.

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Atari Video Game Burial Hits Ebay

1983 was the year of the great video game crash, and after the chiefs of Atari realized they had produced more copies of Pac-Man than consoles sold, these games, along with other ‘treasures’ were loaded into trucks, shipped out to the desert, and buried in a New Mexico landfill. Last year, these consoles were rescued. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, these cartridges are for sale again.

Want to grab your own copy of E.T., Asteroids, Star Raiders, or Centipede rescued from a landfill in a desert? Here’s a link to the seller on eBay, with the highest auction being E.T., in box, going for $400 with nine days left. The auction comes with a certificate of authenticity from the city of Alamogordo.

This is only the first batch of cartridges and boxes rescued from the dump, with the Tularosa Basin Historical Society putting at least another 700 items up for sale if this batch goes well.

With the rousing success of this bit of dumpster diving, we must point out another techno-archeological myth/legend: there are several thousand Apple Lisas in a Utah landfill, just waiting for someone to come in and pick through the remnants of an Apple tax writeoff.