A short walk from the Ashmolean, the Centre for the research 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 that is getting used to reveal previously illegible inscriptions that are ancient.
I’m here to generally meet Dr Jane Massйglia, an Oxford alumna, former teacher that is secondary now research fellow for AshLI (the Ashmolean Latin Inscription Project). Jane works to encourage general engagement that is public translating these ancient documents. There are numerous nice examples of this: calling out on Twitter for the interested public to have a stab at translating these ancient inscriptions.
The second person I’m 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, happens to be dealing with CSAD on his gap year before starting a Classics degree at Harvard later this year.
What’s the remit of CSAD and how did it come to be?
‘The centre started about twenty years ago,’ Jane tells me. ‘It came to be out of several projects that are big original texts just like the Vindolanda tablets (a Roman site in northern England which includes yielded the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain). There was suddenly a necessity to house various different projects in Classics looking at primary source material, and an awareness that it was better joined up together. It’s a good idea: epigraphers, the people who study these ancient inscriptions – do things in a way that is similar similar resources and technology.
‘In regards to what we do now, the centre currently holds a 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 www.essaytyperonline.com/ which can be stacked floor to ceiling at the heart.
‘a number of the ongoing work on the centre is within sifting and analysing what is within these archives. The new system is even more accessible – within the immediate future we will have the ability to view the squeezes on a pc and, into the long term, there clearly was talk of searchable indexes of RTI images and integration with open source and widely used commercial platforms, like Photoshop.’