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Crowdsourcing Proto-Elamite

Here’s an interesting¬†article from the BBC:¬†researchers from Oxford’s Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, led by Jacob Dahl, are attempting to decipher inscriptions in Proto-Elamite — an undeciphered writing system from Elam, in present-day Iran — by taking high-resolution photos of the inscriptions and posting those photos online for anyone and everyone to help decipher. Here’s the BBC’s description of the process:

Dr Dahl, from the Oriental Studies Faculty, shipped his image-making device on the Eurostar to the Louvre Museum in Paris, which holds the most important collection of this writing.

The clay tablets were put inside this machine, the Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of 76 separate photographic lights and computer processing to capture every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets.

It allows a virtual image to be turned around, as though being held up to the light at every possible angle.

These images will be publicly available online, with the aim of using a kind of academic crowdsourcing.

Dahl and his team have set up a wiki with links to their photos of the Proto-Elamite inscriptions and tools for studying the language. Interested parties can also email cdli.oxford@orinst.ox.ac.uk to volunteer.

To me, this sounds like a very good opportunity for an undergraduate class project in a Near Eastern Languages and Cultures or a Classics program. Students would get hands-on experience using digital tools for research, as well as providing a great benefit to the field.

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