Oxford University wants help deciphering Egyptian papyri

Oxford University wants help deciphering Egyptian papyri

Members of the public are being consulted to help decode papyri, with the aim of finding fragments of the lost gospels, works of literature and letters about daily life in ancient Egypt in a new project launched by the Oxford University.

The project AncientLives launching today, is putting hundreds of thousands of images of Greek papyrus fragments online. The researchers say that “armchair archaeologistsCan help by visiting the website in cataloging the collection, and that incredible discoveries could be made, such as the recent find of the previously unknown lost gospels describing Jesus Christ casting out demons.

Nobody knows who wrote this lost gospel: It is part of the papyri found in a hidden treasure in the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynus, "the city of sharp-nosed fish”Recovered in the 20th century. The texts were written in Greek during a period when Egypt was under the control of Greek settlers (and later Romans). Many of the papyri have not been read for 1000 years.

Due to the large number of images, researchers are looking for volunteers who, through this online catalog, can transcribe the text with a simple web interface that shows known and unknown texts.

"It is thanks to the technological advances of our time that we will be able to open this window to the past, and contemplate a common past of humanity in that intimate traditional medium of handwriting", said the main developer and designer of this project William MacFarlane , of the Physics department of the University of Oxford.

Experts have been studying this collection for over 100 years. It is thanks to the Oxyrhynchus site that we now have the possibility of studying works of art lost during medieval times: the poetry of Sappho, the comedies of Menander and the lost works of Sophocles. There are also personal documents - we learn in a letter that Aurelio the sausage maker has borrowed 9000 silver denarii, perhaps to expand his business, while in another letter from 127 BC. a grandmother named Sarapias asks that her daughter be taken home so that she can be present at the birth of her grandson.

Discovering new texts is always exciting”, Explains the origami Dr. James Brusuelas,“but the fact of reading a literary work or a letter that has not been read in 1000 years is what I like the most about papyrology”. Pail Ellis, an imaging specialist who assisted in digitizing the papyrus texts, said: “online images are a window into ancient life ».

The project is a collaboration between papyrologists from Oxford University, the Egyptian Exploration Society, and a team from the Oxford University Physics department that specializes in “citizen science” construction projects that anyone can contribute to. an investigation.

Until now only experts could explore this incredible collection”Said project director Dr Chris Lintott from the Oxford University physics department, but with such a large collection there is much to discover for everyone. We are very happy to see what visitors discover on ancientlives.org "

Papirologists are well known for their friendship with people interested in ancient texts."Said Dr. Dirk, director of the Obbink project and Oxford University professor of papyrology and Greek literature."The whole project is infused with a spirit of collaboration. Our goal is to transcribe as much of the original papyri as possible and then identify and reconstruct the text. Only one pair of eyes cannot see and read everything. From scientists and teachers to school students and antique enthusiasts, they all have something to contribute and gain.”.


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