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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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From Dust to Digital

From Dust to Digital

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

Knowledge is 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 famous Library of Alexandria contained written scrolls from across the ancient Mediterranean world and was destroyed during invasions of the city. The library's destruction likely represented the greatest loss of knowledge from the Greco-Roman era that has ever existed.

Can 21st Century technologies help recover ancient manuscripts and what they have to tell us? That's the life's work of translators like Gregory Heyworth who deciphers re-discovered texts. Heyworth directs The Lazarus Imaging Project at Princeton University. Heyworth and his team use digital imaging to decifer unreadable papyri scrolls and other written fragments, faded documents, and unknown texts. These visualization of ancient writing creates a digital surrogate of the texts which can then be studied by historians and other researchers around the world.

Likewise, efforts are underway in the Classics Department at Oxford University in England to translate ancient documents discovered by chance at a garbage dump in the Egyptian desert. They had been covered by dry sand for nearly 2000 years near the town of Oxyrhynchus. The Oxford initiative is known as the Oxyrhynchus Project, where the cache of fragments was uncovered in the late 19th Century. The trove had been protected by the hyper-dry conditions but existed as thousands of fragments from ancient Greek inscribed scrolls (papyri). The scattered documents were gathered, boxed, and shipped to Oxford where they remained for nearly a century unread. The fragments and are now being made available to individuals via a crowd-sourced translation 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 re-emerge from this 'dust to digital' age. WHB

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