Unlocking the Secrets of Ancient Babylon: AI Brings 4000-Year-Old Texts to Life

Researchers use AI to make ancient texts readable

How can we live when we are aware that we will die? The Gilgamesh Epic, the first piece of world literature to be written, poses this question. Gilgamesh embarked on his quest for immortality more than 4,000-years ago. The saga, like all Babylonian Literature, has only survived in fragments. Scholars have been able to make two-thirds readable since the text was rediscovered during the 19th century.

The Babylonians used cuneiform writing on clay tablets. These fragments have survived for centuries. Scholars transferred the characters from the clay pieces onto paper over the centuries. They would then compare their transcripts, and in the best cases, recognize which fragments belonged together and fill the gaps. Texts were written in Sumerian, Akkadian and other languages with complex writing systems. It was a Sisyphean job, which the experts of the Electronic Babylonian Literature Project can hardly imagine.

Enrique Jimenez and his team, who are Professors of Ancient Near Eastern Literatures in LMU’s Institute of Assyriology at LMU, have been working to digitize all the surviving cuneiform tablets since 2018. The project has now processed 22,000 text fragments.


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