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Digitizing Ancient Texts

November 19, 2012

Sophisticated computer imaging may help decode the world’s oldest un-deciphered written language.



Digitizing ancient texts. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The world’s oldest un-cracked code may be the pre-Elamite writing system, which flourished about five thousand years ago in what’s now Iran.  But it may soon be deciphered, thanks to a system that creates sophisticated digital images of the original artifacts.  Each image includes data from 76 different light angles, which enables Oxford University Assyriologist Jacob Dahl to re-create the experience of examining the objects in person.

JACOB DAHL (Oxford University):

So when I go into a museum, I pick up an object and hold it against the light source, and I will continuously rotate it to capture the best light possible for that particular detail that I’m looking at.

That’s crucial for determining exactly what the original markings looked like.  And thanks to digital file sharing and specialized software, it’s something that scholars all over the world can now do from their own desks.   I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

A tablet containing 5,000-year-old writing may finally be deciphered, thanks to a sophisticated imaging system. (Image courtesy of University of Oxford)