Human-Machine collaboration for restoring ancient Mesopotamian heritage

Ethan Fetaya FETAYA 1 | Shai GORDIN 2
(1 Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan | 2 Ariel University Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ariel, Israel)

Abstract: The documentary sources for the political, economic, and social history of ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) constitute hundreds of thousands of clay tablets inscribed in the cuneiform script. Most tablets are damaged, leaving gaps in the texts written on them, and the missing portions must be restored by experts. In our talk, we will present a new open-source initiative called the Babylonian Engine, a Digital Humanities project that aims to reconstruct the ancient Babylonian society, environment and landscape using philological data and Machine Learning algorithms. We will discuss available digitized texts in Akkadian and how they can be used for training advanced machine-learning algorithms to restore daily economic and administrative documents from Babylonia under the rule of the Persian empire (6th to 4th centuries BCE). As the amount of digitized texts grows, the model can be trained to restore damaged texts belonging to other genres, such as scientific or literary texts. Therefore, this is a first step for a large-scale reconstruction of a lost ancient heritage, by creating a human-machine interface for the historical sciences and the humanities.