Technology helping to crack oldest undeciphered writing system

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New technology has allowed researchers to come closer than ever to cracking the world’s oldest undeciphered writing system.


Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Southampton have developed a Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) System for Ancient Documentary Artefacts (funded by the UK Research Council and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) to capture images of some of the world’s most important historical documents. Recently this system was used on objects held in the vaults of the in Paris.

These images have now been made available online for free public access on the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative website.

Among the documents are manuscripts written in the so-called proto-Elamite writing system used in ancient Iran from 3,200 to 3,000 BC and which is the oldest undeciphered writing system currently known. By viewing extremely high quality images of these documents, and by sharing them with a community of scholars worldwide, the Oxford University team hope to crack the code once and for all.

Dr Jacob Dahl, a co-leader of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative and a member of Oxford University’s Faculty of Oriental Studies, said: ‘I have spent the last ten years trying to decipher the proto-Elamite writing system and, with this new technology, I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough.

‘The quality of the images captured is incredible. And it is important to remember that you cannot decipher a writing system without having reliable images because you will, for example, overlook differences barely visible to the naked eye which may have meaning. Consider for example not being able to distinguish the letter i from the letter t.’

The reflectance transformation imaging technology system designed by staff in the Archaeological Computing Research Group and Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton comprises a dome with 76 lights and a camera positioned at the top of the dome. The manuscript is placed in the centre of the dome, whereafter 76 photos are taken each with one of the 76 lights individually lit. In post-processing the 76 images are joined so that the researcher can move the light across the surface of the digital image and use the difference between light and shadow to highlight never-before-seen details.

Written By: PhysOrg
continue to source article at phys.org

8 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder if there is non-destructive technology to do a density analysis of the material with the writing ?  Assume for the moment it is a type of clay.  Would a cuneiform tool not compress the material such that something akin to ground-penetrating radar could identify subtle differences ?  I am thinking of something like the Time Team TV show and their “geo-phys” (?) technology.   If so, I suspect this would be more effective at identifying the original script.  Weathering and abrasion would degrade the image if viewed only with differential lighting.

  2. Writing from 3200BC, eh?

    Well since the Earth is less than 6000 years old, maybe we can look forward to some first person revelations about creation and whether god really does look like us or not. I can’t wait to find out.

  3. I wonder what young earth-ers make of artefacts that have been dated to being right on the cusp of creation – some of these tablets are 5200 years old, but there must be a few objects that are just over the 6000 year magic number. 

    Do the scientific dating methods “work” up until that point, in their opinions? Or is there a massive radio-carbon “crunch” in the last 10-15 years of creationist time, into which all of the apparent billions of years of action are crammed?

    Very interesting research, though. Even just looking at these images is pretty wonderful :)

  4. I think this is absolutely exciting.  Although the writing still has not been deciphered, with clearer images we are able to get better resolution of the characters.  I’ve spent a great deal of time learning about Ugaritic , a semitic alphabetic cuneiform, and the contents of the writing sheds a great deal of light on the Ancient Near East near the Fall of the Bronze Age.  

    Deciphering Proto-Elamite will give us some insight into the  lost Elamite culture during the Early Bronze Age.  Very cool from an anthropological perspective.  Besides, any new information near the dawn of  our capability of writing adds to the story of the cultural evolution of our species.  

  5. Jabarkis Do the scientific dating methods “work” up until that point, in their opinions? Or is there a massive radio-carbon “crunch” in the last 10-15 years of creationist time, into which all of the apparent billions of years of action are crammed?

    YECs don’t have opinions in the scientific sense – just science denials!

    Even radio-carbon dating goes back way past 6,000!

    Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon, with a half-life of 5,730 years,  which is very short – compared to some other isotopes. – and remember the half life is only when its % has halved.  Measurements go on way beyond that.
    Radiometric dating
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R

    Radioisotopes used for calculating the age of rocks have very long half-lives. A commonly used radioisotope for this purpose is uranium 238 — an isotope of uranium with an atomic weight of about 238. Uranium 238 has a half-life of about 4.5 billion (4,500,000,000) years.
    http://science.howstuffworks.c

  6.         Jabarkis                                             
                     I wonder what young earth-ers make of artefacts that have been dated to being right on the cusp of creation – some of these tablets are 5200 years old, but there must be a few objects that are just over the 6000 year magic number.

     
    There are not just a few objects even in terms of human civilization.  Even before writing there were pictures and buildings:

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic…. –

    Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh),
    the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals — a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars.
    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬
    The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza.
    ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬
    It contains the oldest known temple.  Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.

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