Artificial Intelligence Is Being Used To Decipher Medieval Graffiti In Ukraine


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


The graffiti being studied was inside St. Sophia's Cathedral. caminoel/Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence is being used to decipher graffiti dating back centuries in Ukraine, according to a new study.

Published on the pre-print server arXiv, researchers from the National Technical University of Ukraine and Huizhou University’s School of Information Science and Technology have been using machine learning to examine some of the ancient letters on St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev.


Using more than 4,000 images of 34 glyphs, the team trained a neural network to examine and study the letters. And they found that it was 99 percent accurate in picking out specific characters.

“The researchers focused the bulk of their efforts on Glagolitic and Cyrillic, two alphabets commonly used in Eastern Slavic visual texts,” noted Kyle Wiggers for Venture Beat, who first broke the story.

“Archaeologists found glyphs from both – some dating back to the 11th century – on the St. Sophia Cathedral in Ukraine. To date, about 7,000 have been detected and studied.”

Smithsonian noted that the cathedral contains 300 pieces of medieval graffiti, which detail some of the thoughts of locals at the time. These include a “forlorn young woman’s hopes of attracting a male suitor to condemnations of thieves and sketches of cats.”


To train their machine-learning algorithm, the team used both their own dataset and one called notMNIST, which is a database of fonts and glyphs. Editing images so that they were the right way up, the team fed data to their algorithm.

“[Graffiti is a] very powerful source of historical knowledge,” the researchers wrote in their study. “The main aim of this paper is to apply some machine-learning techniques for automatic recognition of the historical graffiti, namely letters carved on the stoned walls.”

Using this model the team hopes to learn much more about the graffiti, including when it was written and its meaning. The researchers also want to share an open database of glyphs that anyone can use.

Artificial intelligence has been used for a lot of research recently, everything from recreating images inside the human brain to solving World War II mysteries. Studying ancient art is perhaps a more surprising use, but one that is interesting in its own right nonetheless.


[H/T: Venture Beat]


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  • artificial intelligence,

  • ukraine,

  • graffiti,

  • neural network