Deciphering Ancient Texts: The Role of Artificial Intelligence

In recent years, there has been growing interest in the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to decode ancient texts. However, the complexities of deciphering scripts like Hittite, written in cuneiform, pose significant challenges for AI systems. Associate Professor Alwin Kloekhorst, a specialist in Hittite, raises doubts about the accuracy of AI translation, given the intricate nature of 3D engravings on clay tablets. While AI may not yet be capable of fully replacing human expertise in deciphering ancient texts, it does offer valuable opportunities in areas such as statistical analysis and digitization. This article explores the current capabilities and limitations of AI in the field of ancient text decipherment, highlighting the importance of human involvement in verifying and refining AI-generated results.

Challenges of Deciphering Ancient Texts with AI

The intricate nature of ancient scripts, such as Hittite written in cuneiform, poses significant challenges for AI translation.

Deciphering ancient texts is no easy task, especially when it comes to scripts like Hittite that are written in cuneiform. While these texts may appear to be neatly engraved, they are actually three-dimensional engravings on clay tablets. This complexity makes it difficult for AI systems to accurately scan and recognize the characters.

Furthermore, the limited number of surviving fragments of Hittite texts, approximately 30,000, makes it challenging to train AI models effectively. The fragments are often incomplete, with missing parts that further complicate the translation process. Researchers working on this have reported reliability percentages as low as 70%, highlighting the current limitations of AI in deciphering ancient texts.

Opportunities for AI in Statistical Analysis

AI can aid in statistical analysis of ancient texts, offering faster comparisons and insights.

Despite the challenges in translation, AI can still play a valuable role in the field of ancient text research. For instance, German researchers recently created a digital corpus of all existing texts in Hittite, which provides a comprehensive resource for scholars. This digital corpus enables statistical analysis of the texts, allowing researchers to compare spelling variations and patterns more efficiently.

With the digital corpus, researchers can analyze the usage of different spellings in Hittite texts and gain insights into the language's evolution. This information can contribute to a deeper understanding of the Hittite civilization and its cultural development over time.

The Significance of Digitization in Ancient Text Research

Digitization of ancient clay tablets opens up new possibilities for research and preservation.

Digitization has revolutionized the study of ancient texts, including those written on clay tablets. With advancements in 3D scanning technology, it is now possible to digitize fragile clay tablets that are deteriorating in museum depots.

By digitizing these tablets, researchers can focus on the text itself without the laborious process of manually transcribing and collecting data. This streamlined approach allows for more efficient and focused research, saving valuable time and resources.

Furthermore, there have been attempts to scan the insides of clay envelopes, which could potentially reveal hidden contents without damaging the fragile artifacts. The digitization of ancient texts not only aids in their preservation but also opens up new avenues for exploration and analysis.

The Future of AI in Deciphering Ancient Texts

AI may eventually assist in fragment reconstruction and analysis, but human expertise remains essential.

Looking ahead, there is potential for AI to assist in deciphering ancient texts more accurately. For example, AI algorithms could analyze the break lines of tablets and determine which fragments belong together, aiding in the reconstruction of fragmented texts.

However, it is important to note that human expertise and verification will continue to be crucial in the decipherment process. AI-generated results will still require human interpretation and validation to ensure accuracy and reliability.

The collaboration between AI and human experts holds promise for advancing our understanding of ancient civilizations and their languages. By combining the computational power of AI with the nuanced insights of human scholars, we can unlock the secrets of the past and gain deeper insights into our shared history.


While artificial intelligence shows promise in aiding the decipherment of ancient texts, there are significant challenges that AI systems currently face. The intricate nature of scripts like Hittite, along with the limited number of surviving fragments, make it difficult for AI to achieve accurate translations. However, AI can still contribute to statistical analysis and the digitization of ancient texts, offering valuable insights and preservation opportunities.

As we look to the future, AI may play a role in fragment reconstruction and analysis, but human expertise will remain essential in verifying and refining AI-generated results. The collaboration between AI and human scholars holds great potential for advancing our understanding of ancient civilizations and their languages, allowing us to uncover the mysteries of the past and gain deeper insights into our shared history.