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The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents

The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents

A walk that is short the Ashmolean, the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (CSAD) is making waves through the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies on St Giles’. The interview has been put up to find out more about new imaging technology which is getting used to reveal previously illegible inscriptions that are ancient.

I’m here to fulfill Dr Jane Massйglia, an Oxford alumna, former secondary teacher and now research fellow for AshLI (the Ashmolean Latin Inscription Project). Jane actively works to encourage general public engagement with translating these ancient documents. There are many nice examples of this: calling out on Twitter for the interested public to have a stab at translating these inscriptions that are ancient.

The person that is second meeting today is Ben Altshuler, ‘our amazing RTI whizzkid.’ RTI, or Reflectance Transformation Imaging, is the software used to decipher previously impenetrable inscriptions. Ben Altshuler, 20, has been working with CSAD on his gap before starting a Classics degree at Harvard later this year year.

What’s the remit of CSAD and just how achieved it come to be?

‘The centre started about twenty years ago,’ Jane tells me. ‘It was created out of several projects that are big original texts such as the Vindolanda tablets (a Roman site in northern England that has yielded the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain). There is suddenly a need to accommodate various different projects in Classics looking at primary source material, and a feeling that it was better joined up together. It seems sensible: epigraphers, the folks who study these ancient inscriptions – do things in a similar way with similar resources and technology.

‘in terms of what we do now, the centre currently holds a true number of projects like AshLI, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions (CPI) in addition to 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 that are stacked floor to ceiling in the centre.

‘a number of the ongoing work on the centre is within sifting and analysing what exactly is during these archives. The system that is new significantly more accessible – into the immediate future we are going to be able to view the squeezes on a computer and, within the long run, there is talk of searchable indexes of RTI images and integration with open source and widely used commercial platforms, like Photoshop.’

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