Greek Texts to be Digitized

From a UCL press release:

A grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation will create an online digital library containing rare books and art works related to Greek history and culture which will be available to everyone, across the world.

For the first time, hundreds of key texts by the notable Greek mathematician, Euclid will be made available to all. Other materials will include copies of early Greek bibles, illustrations and plaster models created by John Flaxman, a key figure in the development of British Neo-classicism and excavation reports from Greek and Roman archaeological sites.

The material on the Digital Library website will be accompanied by information and commentary written by UCL academics to enhance engagement and understanding. The digital capture and curation proposed will allow wider, easier, long-term access to these extraordinary materials which will benefit UCL staff, students, scholars from the international community, school children and the general public.

In particular, widening access to these materials for scholars will yield more interdisciplinary and innovative research projects and more unique research papers. The new digital library will create a virtual community of scholars and interested individuals and therefore encourage debate. UCL plans to work closely with partners like the British Library and the Institute of Classical Studies to share this new resource as widely as possible.

The material will also be used by UCL and other universities in schools to inspire children and young people to take an interest in subjects like Ancient History and enhance their understanding of the unique opportunities university provides. Members of the public across the world will have online access to hundreds of fascinating texts and artworks at the touch of a button.

Dr Stelios Vasilakis, Senior Program Officer for Strategy & Initiatives at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, said: “The grant reflects the Foundation’s commitment to educational projects that can benefit as wide of an audience as possible. We are very pleased that our support will help create a digital library, making a large number of rare books and artefacts accessible to scholars, students and the general public alike.”

Paul Ayris, Director of UCL Library Services, said: “When Euclid was alive, only a tiny number of people would have been privileged enough to read his works. Today, thanks to the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, we are able to make these available for the whole world. I am very much looking forward to working with the Foundation to create this wonderful new resource for everyone who is passionate about Greek history and culture the world over.”

About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation: The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. The Foundation funds organizations and projects that exhibit strong leadership and sound management and are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive social impact. The Foundation also seeks actively to support projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as effective means for serving public welfare.

Computed Tomography and Roman Coins (mostly)

Interesting press release from Southampton which has been making the rounds of the news outlets in various forms … here’s the first three-quarters or so:

Archaeologists and engineers from the University of Southampton are collaborating with the British Museum to examine buried Roman coins using the latest X-ray imaging technology.

Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards.

The centre’s equipment can scan inside objects – rotating 360 degrees whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images. In the case of the coins, the exceptionally high energy/high resolution combination of the Southampton facilities allows them to be examined in intricate detail without the need for physical excavation or cleaning. For those recently scanned at Southampton, it has been possible to use 3D computer visualisation capabilities to read inscriptions and identify depictions of emperors on the faces of the coins – for example on some, the heads of Claudius II and Tetricus I have been revealed.

University of Southampton archaeologist, Dr Graeme Earl says, “Excavating and cleaning just a single coin can take hours or even days, but this technology gives us the opportunity to examine and identify them quickly and without the need for conservation treatment at this stage. It also has potential for examining many other archaeological objects.

“The University’s Archaeological Computing Research Group can then take this one step further – producing accurate, high resolution CGI visualisations based on scan data. This gives archaeologists and conservators around the world the opportunity to virtually examine, excavate and ‘clean’ objects.”

Dr Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum comments, “This scanning technique is already yielding some fascinating results and the possibility of identifying a hoard of coins in a pot, without removing them, is very exciting. Working with archaeologists and engineers at Southampton, it is exciting to be pioneering and exploring the potential of a process which is faster, cheaper and less interventive than excavation.”

The three objects examined at Southampton are:

• A cremation urn containing nine coins, dating from AD282, found in the Cotswolds. This item in particular would take months to excavate – with archaeologists needing to carefully examine bone fragments and remains to extract more information about its past.

• An estimated 30,000 Roman coins discovered in Bath, dating to around AD270 and concreted together in a large block weighing over 100 kilograms
(radiograph image only).

• A small pot dating to the 2nd century found in the Selby area of East Riding in Yorkshire.

There’s also a link to this video, which shows the Selby material imaging:

Coincidentally, perhaps, earlier this week we were getting the protoclassicist in the family oriented down the 401 at Queen’s University, and while he and his mom were doing the tour of residences (with him excited and mom disgusted, of course), I wandered up to my old stomping grounds in Watson Hall to see if anyone was around. They weren’t, but I did notice a couple of important things. First, the departmental coffee lounge was rather smaller (and cleaner) than I remember it, and second, it was nice to see that some of the Queen’s people’s posters from conference poster sessions were adorning the walls (I think I’ve mentioned I’m a big fan of such things). Anyhoo, one of those posters was by Kate Sullivan, who appears to have just graduated from the Art Conservation program at Queen’s (which has ties to Classics, natch) and the subject of her poster was Comparing X-ray Computed Tomography Images of Corroded Coins with the Results from Traditional Cleaning … I made a note of the name and was very surprised when I got home to find this Southampton thing (on pretty much the same technology) in my box. Even better, though, I managed to find Kate Sullivan’s poster on the web as a pdf  … (more of these please!).

Reading the Herculaneum Papyri

This one’s a bit old, but is still worth mentioning … there’s a new method/project afoot to reveal what’s in the Herculaneum Papyri. An excerpt from the coverage in the  Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The scrolls contained ancient philosophical and learned writings. But they were so badly damaged — turned to carbon by the volcanic heat — that they crumbled when scholars first tried to open them centuries later.

The remaining scrolls, stored away in Italy and France, haven’t been read — or even unrolled — since A.D. 79.

Now, a computer scientist from the University of Kentucky hopes that modern digital technology will allow him to peer inside two of the fragile scrolls — without physically opening them — and unlock secrets they have held for almost 2,000 years.

Brent Seales, a professor of engineering in the UK computer-science department, will use an X-ray CT scanning system to collect interior images of the scrolls’ rolled-up pages. Then, he and his colleagues hope to digitally “unroll” the scrolls on a computer screen so scholars can read them.

“It will be a challenge because today these things look more like charcoal briquettes than scrolls,” Seales said. “But we’re using a noninvasive scanning system, based on medical technology, that lets you slice through an object and develop a three-dimensional data set without having to open it, just as you would do a CT scan on a human body.” The two scrolls that Seales and his team will work on are stored at the French National Academy in Paris. The UK group will spend July working there.

Their system was developed at UK through the EDUCE project, or Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration, which Seales launched through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Experts say that if the UK system works as well as hoped, it could provide a safe new way to decipher and preserve more scrolls from Herculaneum, as well as other ancient books, manuscripts and documents that are too fragile to be opened.

“No one has yet really figured out a way to open them,” says Roger Macfarlane, a professor of classics at Brigham Young University who also has worked on scrolls from Herculaneum. “If Brent is successful, it would be a huge, potentially monumental step forward.”

Seales admits that there are hurdles, the biggest being the carbon-based ink thought to have been used on the scrolls. He says that because the papyrus in the scrolls was turned to carbon by the fury of Vesuvius, it might be impossible to visually separate the writing from the pages.

“The open question is, will we be able to read the writing?” Seales said. “There is a chance that we won’t be able to do it with our current machine and that we’ll have to re-engineer some things. But if that’s the case, that’s what we will do.”

If it works, what will they find?

The best guess is that the scrolls contain writings by Philodemus, a Roman writer and Epicurean philosopher born about 110 B.C. Philodemus is not considered a classical thinker of the first rank, but he was a contemporary of Cicero. He taught Virgil and is thought to have influenced the Roman poet Horace.


Cleaning out the rest of the inbox …

A new roof for Newport Roman Villa:

Coverage of Richard Seaford’s thoughts about Greek money at the Classical Association:

Coverage of the “Subversive Classics” session at Princeton:

Latin in a Nottingham primary school:

Ancient Greek in a Lexington grade school (!):

Coverage of the Caesar: the man, the deeds, the myth exhibition (I haven’t found much more on the web yet for this exhibition, which is almost over!):

Another exhibition with a bit of ClassCon is Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum:

New at Project Muse:

Interesting article by Amelia Sparavigna:

Larry Hurtado in Slate:

Brief feature on the tunnel of Eupalinos on Samos:

The Classics Online Gateway is a UK outreach effort that looks emulatable …

Archimedes Palimpsest Redux

There have been a pile of news reports about the Archimedes Palimpsest this week … near as I can tell, what is new in these reports is the revelation that Archimedes’ thoughts on infinity in the palimpsest are different than previously thought. The salient excerpt (via the Live Science version):

“Scholars are now talking about some new words which are emerging in the reconstruction of the evidence in introduction to the Method, that Archimedes’ concept of infinity was rather different from what was previously thought,” Bergmann said.

In fact, the new reading reveals that Archimedes was engaged in math that made conceptual use of actual infinity, as Netz describes on the Web site The calculations involved adding infinite numbers of sums, such as the number of triangles inside a prism, as well as the number of lines inside a rectangle. Archimedes tried to argue that these values are equal to each other, making a statement about actual infinity, not just potential infinity, Nets writes.

The project website mentioned above (which I wasn’t aware of) has a pile of interesting stuff, including a digital version of the palimpsest and interviews etc. with those involved. You could easily kill an hour or so there.