The Centre for the scholarly study of Ancient Documents
A short walk from the Ashmolean, the Centre for the essaywriter research of Ancient Documents (CSAD) is making waves from the Ioannou Centre for Classical and Byzantine Studies on St Giles’. The interview has been set up to find out more about new imaging technology that is getting used to show previously illegible inscriptions that are ancient.
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 actively works to encourage general public engagement with translating these ancient documents. There are many nice samples 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, may be the software used to decipher previously impenetrable inscriptions. Ben Altshuler, 20, has been 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 20 years ago,’ Jane informs me. ‘It came to be away from several big projects involving original texts like the Vindolanda tablets (a Roman site in northern England that has yielded the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain). There clearly was suddenly a need to accommodate various projects that are different Classics taking a look at primary source material, and a sense it was better joined up together. It seems sensible: epigraphers, the people 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 number of projects like AshLI, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions (CPI) together with 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 exactly is in these archives. The system that is new much more accessible – into the immediate future we are going to manage to view the squeezes on some type of computer and, into the long term, there is talk of searchable indexes of RTI images and integration with open source and widely used commercial platforms, like Photoshop.’
Ben, how did you come to be so a part of CSAD at 20?
‘In the last few several years of senior school I took part in an oral history project organised because of the Classics Conclave and American Philological Association,’ Ben tells me. ‘While we were interviewing classicists at Oxford, Roger Michel, the top of the Conclave, saw a number of places in the University and surrounding museums where technology that is new thrive. I happened to be offered a two-year sponsorship at the CSAD as an imaging expert when you look at the fall following my graduation, and I also spent the very last year building up technical expertise to give you the mandatory support during my work in Oxford.
‘from the classical language side so I came into it. I quickly saw that to be very successful in epigraphy takes years of experience. However with RTI one could master the technology in a relatively short length of time. I could make a much bigger impact providing the technical skills and processed images for established classicists to operate on employing their language expertise.’
Ben shows me a video clip he’s made from the effects that are different can create in illuminating previously indecipherable texts (or, in this case, a coin).
Here prominent classist Mary Beard interviews Ben among others at CSAD for more information about how RTI is being used which will make new discoveries possible within Humanities.