Linguists from the Ludwig-Maximilian University of the German Institute of Assyriology have used the power of artificial intelligence to study and digitize ancient cuneiform texts. An unexpected result of the study was that the AI discovered a previously unknown ancient fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
According to Tehran Times, the goal of the project is to reconstruct ancient cuneiform texts with the help of artificial intelligence, deciphering unreadable fragments along the way. Therefore, the project itself was called “Fragmentarium” (Fragmentarium).
It started in 2018 and since then around 22 thousand text snippets have been processed in its framework. At the same time, the algorithm has already identified hundreds of manuscripts and many textual links. One of the most intriguing discoveries was the identification of a previously unknown fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh dating to 130 BC.
The true age of the Epic of Gilgamesh exceeds 4000 years. The presence of later copies indicates that the epic was diligently copied and passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. The most complete version is considered to be 12 Akkadian tablets found at Nineveh in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (r. 668-627 BC).
However, these tablets are not fully preserved. However, fragmentary preserved texts found in Mesopotamia and Anatolia helped scientists fill in the gaps in the narrative. The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered the first literary work of humanity. Gilgamesh is the subject of many stories in the Akkadian language. And the epic about him is, in fact, the “odyssey” of the king, who did not want to die.
Scientists also know of five short Sumerian poems: “Gilgamesh and Huwawa”, “Gilgamesh and the Heavenly Bull”, “Gilgamesh and Agga from Kish”, “Gilgamesh, Enkidu and the Underworld” and “The Death of Gilgamesh”. They were written on tablets created in the first half of the second millennium BC. As for the previously unknown fragment discovered by artificial intelligence, it is a eulogy to Gilgamesh. The latter is described as a great builder and warrior who knows everything in the world, he is both a god and a man.