Artificial Intelligence Recreates Pompeii’s Ruined Ancient Masterpieces



Conny Waters – – When Mount Vesuvius erupted on the morning of August 24, 79 A.D., life ended in the ancient city of Pompeii. A great cloud of hot ash, stones, and poisonous gases completely buried the whole Roman city, and the natural catastrophe was devastating.

At the time of the destruction, Pompeii was a flourishing ancient city with magnificent houses, streets, and shops. Now everything would remain lost, forgotten, sealed, and preserved in a time capsule for more than seventeen centuries.

Artificial Intelligence Recreates Pompeii's Ruined Ancient Masterpieces

Fresco at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Credit: Adobe Stock – BlackMac

Still, though ancient Pompeii is gone forever, it is possible to at least re-construct how people lived before the eruption. Archaeologists have discovered many ancient artifacts, skeletons, and ruins that offer a glimpse into the past. Scientists have found a remarkably well-preserved thermopolium with frescoes, food, and jars in Pompeii. The place gives an overview of how and what people enjoyed to eat.

Using Virtual Reality, a team of experts has also reconstructed an ancient home in Pompeii. Scientists have also restored an amazing ancient Roman vineyard buried underneath the ash of Mount Vesuvius for 2,000 years.

Now, after 20 years of restoration, a magnificent Pompeii house has also been opened to the public.

To preserve the cultural heritage of Pompeii, scientists have launched the RePAIR’ project (Reconstructing the Past: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Meet Cultural Heritage).

“The main goal of RePAIR project is to develop a ground-breaking technology to virtually eliminate one of the most labour-intensive and frustrating steps in archaeological research, namely the physical reconstruction of shattered artworks. Indeed, countless vases, amphoras, frescos, and other ancient artifacts, all over the world, have not survived intact and were dug out from excavation sites as large collections of fragments, many of which are damaged, worn out or missing altogether.

Reconstruction of small artifacts is typically done by experienced operators, possibly with the assistance of dedicated software. Still, when the number of fragments is large (say, of the order of thousands), manual or computer-assisted restoration is simply hopeless. This prevents a large fraction of the world’s cultural heritage from being openly accessible to scholars as well as the general public.

By developing and integrating novel technologies in the fields of robotics, computer vision, and artificial intelligence, we envisage a future where archaeology can deal effectively with reconstruction problems at an unprecedented scale and be able to bring back to life ancient artworks and masterpieces which would otherwise remain broken into pieces forever.

Specifically, we aim to develop an intelligent robotic system that will autonomously process, match and physically assemble large fractured artifacts at a fraction of the time it takes humans to do. The level of ambition of our proposal poses several challenges that cannot be satisfactorily addressed with off-the-shelf technologies, and hence we shall develop brand-new solutions that will push the boundaries of research in the fields of robotics and computer vision.

Our system will be tested over iconic case studies from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pompeii, and one tangible outcome of the project will be to restore two world-renowned frescos which are now shattered into thousands of fragments and forgotten in storerooms,” the scientists of the RePAIR project explain.

Scientists from universities in Italy, Portugal, Israel, and Germany have worked with archaeologists and art historians on this ambitious project since 2021. The developed robot will piece together 1,500 ancient fragments and bring them to life, presenting long-gone masterpieces of the past.

The physical reconstruction of archaeological artifacts, which are mostly fragmentary and difficult to reassemble, is a challenge, but this is something the developed AI can accomplish. By scanning the ancient fragments, it can detect original colors and analyze large amounts of data.

The reconstruction of Pompeii’s ancient wall painting is the beginning of a long science project. If the project is successful, museums worldwide should be able to use the innovative technology and restore ancient art, said Marcello Pelillo, professor in artificial intelligence at Venice University. If everything goes according to planes, scientists can use the RePAIR technology to restore ancient artifacts and, hopefully even papyrus scrolls.

Written by Conny Waters – Staff Writer


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