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Examining Ancient Manuscripts in a Digital Age

Roman Amazon Head
Roman Amazon Head

New imaging systems which will enable a more in-depth study of ancient artefacts will be available within a year.

Dr Kirk Martinez at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and Dr Graeme Earl at the School of Humanities are working on new technology for the digitization of ancient objects and documents to develop a Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) System for Ancient Documentary Artefacts.

RTI technology enables the capture of detailed surface properties from high-resolution still or video images. The RTI systems developed by the project will allow researchers to study documentary and other artefacts remotely in great detail without being restricted by fixed lighting angles. The result will be to ensure that high-quality digital versions of these materials can be consulted by scholars worldwide.

“For example, we are going to take documents which were written by Roman soldiers on wooden tablets and find ways to allow people to study the writing,” said Dr Martinez. “Instead of having just one flat picture for people to look at, they will be able to use light to explore the images in greater detail.”

The 12-month project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact scheme, is a collaboration between ECS and the University of Southampton Archaeological Computing Research Group, with Alan Bowman and Charles Crowther at the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, and Jacob Dahl at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, all at the University of Oxford.

In the course of the next year, the team will develop a number of RTI systems to capture images of documentary texts and archaeological material.

In the piloting phase of the project, which will begin in late summer, the project team will test RTI technology on a selection of documents including Vindolanda stilus tablets, stone inscriptions, Linear B and cuneiform tablets in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and cuneiform tablets in other collections across the UK. They will also experiment with the tool on archaeological materials from important collections all over the world.

Image: Amazon Head investigated using HP Labs polynomial texture mapping technique. See this technology demonstrated.

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel. +44(0)23 8059 5453.

Posted by Joyce Lewis on 09 Jun 2010.