A short walk from the Ashmolean, the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (CSAD) is making waves from the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies on St Giles’. The interview has been put up for more information about new imaging technology that is getting used to show previously illegible ancient inscriptions.
I’m here to satisfy Dr Jane Massйglia, an Oxford alumna, former secondary teacher and now research fellow for AshLI (the Ashmolean Latin Inscription Project). Jane works to encourage general public engagement with translating these ancient documents. There are lots of nice samples of this: calling out on Twitter when it comes to interested public to have a stab at translating these inscriptions that are ancient.
The second person I’m meeting today is Ben Altshuler, ‘our amazing RTI whizzkid.’ RTI, or Reflectance Transformation Imaging, may be the software used to decipher inscriptions that are previously impenetrable. Ben Altshuler, 20, happens to be working with CSAD on his gap year before starting a Classics degree at Harvard later this year.
What is the remit of CSAD and just how achieved it turned out to be?
‘The centre started about twenty years ago,’ Jane tells me. ‘It was created away from several projects that are big original texts such as the Vindolanda tablets (a Roman site in northern England which has yielded the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain). There was suddenly a need to accommodate various different projects in Classics looking at primary source material, and a sense it was better joined up together. It’s wise: epigraphers, the folks who study these ancient inscriptions – do things in a similar way with similar resources and technology.
‘In terms of everything we do now, the centre currently holds a number of projects like AshLI, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions (CPI) additionally the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN).
‘This is how it began,’ she says and shows me a « squeeze ».
The ‘squeezes’ are stored in large boxes which can be stacked floor to ceiling in the middle.
‘Some of the work that is ongoing the centre is within sifting and analysing what is during these archives. The new system is even more accessible – when you look at the immediate future we’ll manage to view the squeezes on a pc and, in the longer term, there clearly was talk of searchable indexes of RTI images and integration with open source and widely used commercial platforms, like Photoshop.’
Ben, how do you come to be so involved with CSAD at 20?
‘In the last few years of High School I took part in an oral history project organised by the Classics Conclave and American Philological Association,’ Ben tells me. ‘Although we were interviewing classicists at Oxford, Roger Michel, the pinnacle associated with the Conclave, saw a number of places into the University and surrounding museums where new technology could thrive. I happened to be offered a sponsorship that is two-year the CSAD as an imaging expert in the fall following my graduation, and I spent the last year building up technical expertise to present the required support within my work with Oxford.
‘So I arrived to it through the classical language side. I quickly saw that to be very successful in epigraphy takes years of experience. However with RTI you can master the technology in a amount that is relatively short of. I could make a much bigger impact providing the skills that are technical processed images for established classicists buy essays to exert effort on employing their language expertise.’
Ben shows me a video he’s manufactured from the different effects RTI can make in illuminating previously indecipherable texts (or, in this case, a coin).
Here prominent classist Mary Beard interviews Ben as well as others at CSAD to find out more about how precisely RTI is being used to produce new discoveries possible within Humanities.