Translation, A Lifetime Job
Hugh Bollinger

Translation, A Lifetime Job

Gregory Heyworth, ancient texts lab (credit: The Lazarus Project)

Knowledge can be passed down orally, visually, or by the written word. It is easily lost if not translated or shared and "book burning" has a long and sad history, particularly during conflicts and invasions. The Library of Alexandria was destroyed over multiple invasions of the Egyptian city and perhaps represented the greatest loss of knowledge from the Greco-Roman era that ever existed. However, the loss of Alexander's library was not the only case of lost ancient information and wisdom.

Can 21st technologies help recover ancient manuscripts and what they have to say? That's the life's work of translators like Gregory Heyworth who deciphers rediscovered ancient texts. Heyworth directs The Lazarus Project, a digital imaging project where unreadable papyri scrolls and other written fragments, faded documents, and unknown texts.

Likewise, efforts are underway at England's Oxford University to translate ancient documents discovered in a desert garbage dump. They had been covered by dry sand for nearly 2000 years near the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus. The project is known as the Oxyrhynchus Project, where the cache was located in the late 19th Century. The trove of documents had been protected by the hyper-dry desert conditions but exist as fragments of ancient papyri (scrolls). Thousands of fragments were discovered, retrieved, and now made available for translating via a crowd-sourced project.

Who knows? It is a big job but maybe pieces of Greek literature including lost chapters from Homer, Herodotus, or other ancient authors will reemerge from the dust.

WHB

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