'World's oldest languages' - that were carved into 5,000-year-old stones - can ... trends now
The mysterious dialect of our ancient ancestors could finally be deciphered in full thanks to artificial intelligence.
A million cuneiform tablets still exist in the world, experts estimate, but these writings left behind by ancient Mesopotamians require tedious work by archaeologists to translate and catalog their contents.
It has been estimated that 90 percent of cuneiform texts remain untranslated.
But now, a team of German researchers has figured out a new way to train computers to recognize cuneiform and even make the contents of millennia-old tablets searchable like a website, making it possible to digitize and assemble larger libraries of these ancient texts.
This could unlock previously unknown details about ancient life, as the tablets contained details about feats as significant as temple construction, all the way down to squabbles as petty as customer service complaints.
The German academics trained an AI on two cuneiform languages, Sumerian and Akkadian.
Sumerian was spoken starting about 5,000 years ago, and it was eventually replaced with Akkadian, but both languages were used in writing until the beginning of the Christian era in Mesopotamia, which occupied modern-day Iraq and parts of what became Iran, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey.
There are estimated to be a million cuneiform tablets in the world. With AI tools, scientists may be able to search their contents quickly and easily
So the cuneiform tablets left behind are not only written in multiple languages, but they are also thousands of years old.
The wedge-shaped cuneiform characters that formed the basis of written languages in ancient Mesopotamia were carved into clay tablets, so they are three-dimensional.
Coupled with the fact that the ancient script has been weathered by time and handling, their qualities can make them difficult to scan into a computer for historians and archaeologists to use them for research.
Now, using 3D models of about 2,000 tablets, they trained a computer program to scan their text and transcribe it - like using your smartphone camera to turn a handwritten note into a text document.
This study did not set out to translate the contents of the tablets, but rather to enable other researchers to do that more easily.
And not only have the ravages of time worn down their unfired