Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Southampton have developed a documentary system of ancient archives called RTI or “Reflectance Transformation Imaging”To capture images of some of the most important historical documents in the world. Some of them can be found on the website of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative available to the public.
Some of the documents are manuscripts written in the proto-Elamite system, used in ancient Iran between 3,200 and 3,000 BC, being the oldest undeciphered writing system known. The images are of high quality and the team at Oxford University hopes to crack the code soon.
The Dr. Jacob Dahl, co-leader of the cuneiform writing of the Digital Library Initiative and a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford, declares that “the quality of the captured images is incredible, and it is important to remember that you cannot decipher a writing system without having reliable images, since you can confuse a t with an i and devalue the whole process”.
The image transformation system is designed by staff from the Computer Science and Archaeological Research Group of Computers and Electronics at the University of Southampton, and consists of a dome with 76 lights and a camera on top. The manuscript is placed in the center of the dome, where 76 photos are taken with each of the lights distributed in the room. The images are then processed and stitched together so that the researcher can move the light through the digital image, and use the contrast between light and shadow to bring out details that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Some characteristics of the manuscript writing system are already known. The scribes had used some Mesopotamian signs, such as number signs and symbols for objects such as sheep, goats, cereals, and some others. But nevertheless, 80-90% of the samples remain undeciphered. This writing system died just a couple of centuries later. Dr. Dahl clarified that “it was used in administration and agricultural records, but it was not used in schools”.
Dr. Dahl has argued that it is very important that documents of human history have access to the public, both due to the increasing influence of virtual scholarships in academic research, as well as the preservation of cultural heritage from areas of the world affected by armed conflict.
Almost graduated in Advertising and Public Relations. I started to like history in 2nd year of high school thanks to a very good teacher who made us see that we have to know our past to know where the future takes us. Since then I have not had the opportunity to investigate more in all that our history offers us, but now I can take up that concern and share it with you.