Machine Learning Based Assembly of Fragments of Ancient Papyrus

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The task of assembling fragments in a puzzle-like manner into a composite picture plays a significant role in the field of archaeology as it supports researchers in their attempt to reconstruct historic artifacts. In this article, we propose a method for matching and assembling pairs of ancient papyrus fragments containing mostly unknown scriptures. Papyrus paper is manufactured from papyrus plants and therefore portrays typical thread patterns resulting from the plant's stems. The proposed algorithm is founded on the hypothesis that these thread patterns contain unique local attributes such that nearby fragments show similar patterns reflecting the continuations of the threads. We posit that these patterns can be exploited using image processing and machine learning techniques to identify matching fragments. The algorithm and system which we present support the quick and automated classification of matching pairs of papyrus fragments as well as the geometric alignment of the pairs against each other. The algorithm consists of a series of steps and is based on deep-learning and machine learning methods. The first step is to deconstruct the problem of matching fragments into a smaller problem of finding thread continuation matches in local edge areas (squares) between pairs of fragments. This phase is solved using a convolutional neural network ingesting raw images of the edge areas and producing local matching scores. The result of this stage yields very high recall but low precision. Thus, we utilize these scores in order to conclude about the matching of entire fragments pairs by establishing an elaborate voting mechanism. We enhance this voting with geometric alignment techniques from which we extract additional spatial information. Eventually, we feed all the data collected from these steps into a Random Forest classifier in order to produce a higher order classifier capable of predicting whether a pair of fragments is a match. Our algorithm was trained on a batch of fragments which was excavated from the Dead Sea caves and is dated circa the 1st century BCE. The algorithm shows excellent results on a validation set which is of a similar origin and conditions. We then tried to run the algorithm against a real-life set of fragments for which we have no prior knowledge or labeling of matches. This test batch is considered extremely challenging due to its poor condition and the small size of its fragments. Evidently, numerous researchers have tried seeking matches within this batch with very little success. Our algorithm performance on this batch was sub-optimal, returning a relatively large ratio of false positives. However, the algorithm was quite useful by eliminating 98% of the possible matches thus reducing the amount of work needed for manual inspection. Indeed, experts that reviewed the results have identified some positive matches as potentially true and referred them for further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalJournal on Computing and Cultural Heritage
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 ACM.


  • Papyrus
  • assembly
  • dead sea scrolls
  • fragments
  • matching
  • neural networks
  • thread patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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