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Crowdsourcing Ancient Egyptian Scrolls 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the ancient-group-work dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Dons at Oxford University were on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' program this morning asking for help from listeners to transcribe unearthed ancient Egyptian texts and scrolls via their website. Visitors to the site are asked to match-up letters on scanned fragments of papyrus with an on-screen Greek alphabet. By doing so, they can help reveal some of the amazing documents that the ancient Egyptians last read. You too can become a papyrologist!"
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Crowdsourcing Ancient Egyptian Scrolls

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @12:33PM (#36885268)

    Greek? You expect me to help translate Ptolemaic period shit?!?!? Do I *look* like Alexander the Fucking Great to you?

    You want my help, you better throw down some hieroglyphs, bitch!

    • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @12:37PM (#36885334)
      Oh my, this has the theoretical potential for a truly epic flame war. I suppose you'd prefer documents out of the 18th dynasty, too? Akhenaten's unspeakable monotheistic heresy and shit like that? Some fries with it, perhaps?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DriedClexler (814907)

      Greek is easier to reed than hieroglyphics.

    • Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, dude.

      -Marcus Antonius
    • HA! I read that in Dr. Hawas's voice.
    • by KritonK (949258)

      No, they expect people to transcribe the Greek texts, letter by individual letter, which is theoretically doable if you are familiar with the Greek alphabet, e.g., from math, even if you can't read Greek

      The problem is that the Greek letters in the papyri look nothing like the modern Greek letters shown in the virtual Greek keyboard provided by the transcription application. Unless you are well-versed in palaeography [wikipedia.org], you are not likely to be able to contribute in the transcription of these texts.

      Still, I ho

      • Sadly true. I had a look and couldn't really tell an alpha from a delta....
      • It's actually not too bad... give it a shot.

        After the first 3-5 papyri with actual text on it, you sort of find a transcription rhythm...

        It helps greatly to have familiarity with the Greek alphabet from both a mathematical perspective but also from modern hand-written Greek. It's surprising how many common cosmetic styling permutations are still present today...

    • by mcswell (1102107)

      You want hieroglyphics, look at the Ribbon on MsWord 2007. You want alphabetically written commands, look at MsWord 2003 or any other program that uses menus.

    • by syousef (465911)

      Greek? You expect me to help translate Ptolemaic period shit?!?!? Do I *look* like Alexander the Fucking Great to you?

      You want my help, you better throw down some hieroglyphs, bitch!

      No problem habibi, cheap hieroglyphs for our bitch Anubis, only 15 pound habibi. Okay okay you drive hard bargain, we make it 10!

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      You do, of course, know that Alexander the Great only knew Ptolemy before he became Pharaoh?

      Of course you did.

  • by kiehlster (844523) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @12:50PM (#36885530) Homepage
    No thanks. I hear those Egyptian curses are nasty, and are acquired by simply reading something or breaking a seal.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just like the ancient Egyptians these researchers are relying on slave labour!

    • Remember to have plenty of bug spray (for the locusts), French (for the frogs), and keep them away from water.

  • by hesaigo999ca (786966) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @12:57PM (#36885632) Homepage Journal

    I think this is a great idea, although they would need some peer review and a full board to accept the translations as being the most accurate....but a great way to save money, that's for sure

    • Certainly, as well as to go beyond literal translation and learn the implications of the content of the text (literal translation is great for performing statistical analysis but that won't help you discover much of anything). On the accuracy side that's why you would first establish a minimum threshold of reliability by having the work done by more than one amateur and requiring consensus. Same as with CAPTCHA and other crowdsourcing mechanisms.

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:01PM (#36885676)
    just think if they setup a website similar to the jigsaw puzzle website jigzone that let anyone download a bunch of fragments and assemble them, and when they find two or more pieces that fit then that info in anonymously uploaded for further inspection and with the millions of internet users having access they might be able to complete this daunting task fairly soon
    • by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:21PM (#36885932)

      But then they would have to allow people to copy/download images. They couldn't have that! FTFA:"Images can not be copied or offloaded...". My answer, "Go fuck yourself. I have better things to do with my time than try to focus on thumbnail sized images on a shitty flash driven website that has moving images on it".

      • by FudRucker (866063)
        why dont you go fuck yourself! i mentioned jigzone because of the java based jigsaw puzzle app that runs in a web browser would make it easy for many people to try and assemble pieces of this thing, it is not my fault you are too goddamn ignorant to block advertisements.

        i bet you are so inept you could not pour piss out of a boot even if the instructions were written on the bottom...
        • by sgt scrub (869860)

          I'm sorry. I should have included tags and specifics to make my post more understandable.

          [sarcasm]
          But then they would have to allow people to copy/download images. They couldn't have that!
          [/sarcasm]

          My answer TO THE SITE REQUESTING HELP, "Go fuck yourself....."

  • It's actually pretty fun. I already transcribed one piece. It's running a bit slow though. When they said "crowd sourcing", I don't think they meant "slashdot crowd sourcing".

  • Mine was:
    two figs
    some dates
    half a dozen eggs
    breakfast sausage
    cottage cheese

    • Re:I'm disappointed (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:28PM (#36886020) Homepage

      You're trying to be silly, but that kind of information would be useful:
      - If I have a bunch of people's shopping lists, I'd be able to tell what sort of things were commonly eaten in that society.
      - Based on how many other people had those foods on the list, I'd likely be able to get an idea as to what's considered rare delicacies versus what's common food (e.g. caviar versus ground beef).
      - Especially combining that information with where the document was found, I'd have a good chance of linking menus to social classes.
      - Once I've got an idea of which social classes have these documents and which don't, I'd know how widespread literacy was in that society, whether there were only professional scribes or amateur writers as well, and maybe some sense of how integrated the scribes were with the rest of the society.

      I mean, imagine you're an archaeologist from the year 3000 trying to figure out why this "pizza" stuff was so wildly popular in ancient New York. Suddenly the nutritional information on the back of a pepperoni wrapper is vitally important.

      • by Tr3vin (1220548)
        Couldn't they just look it up on Wikipapyrus?
        • by Quince alPillan (677281) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @02:15PM (#36886552)
          That information failed to meet the notability guidelines and was deleted per the official deletion policy. Backups from that time period were written over a short time later under the assumption that the information would no longer be needed. Later attempts to put the information back were prevented due to the no original research policy and an ill-informed admin with a grudge who wouldn't allow the information, citing the sources being used were unreliable and could not be verified.
      • I mean, imagine you're an archaeologist from the year 3000 trying to figure out why this "pizza" stuff was so wildly popular in ancient New York. Suddenly the nutritional information on the back of a pepperoni wrapper is vitally important.

        Sodium! They alowed sodium in food products! Barbarians!

        Peparonni? Meat! Theay actually consumed living animals! Bloody Mindless Christians!

        Cheese? Milk! Why don't they just smear dog crap on it?

        They should have eaten what I had for lunch. Palmerized pseudo lichen, just like Mother used to make.

      • You're trying to be silly, but that kind of information would be useful: - If I have a bunch of people's shopping lists, I'd be able to tell what sort of things were commonly eaten in that society. - Based on how many other people had those foods on the list, I'd likely be able to get an idea as to what's considered rare delicacies versus what's common food (e.g. caviar versus ground beef). - Especially combining that information with where the document was found, I'd have a good chance of linking menus to social classes. - Once I've got an idea of which social classes have these documents and which don't, I'd know how widespread literacy was in that society, whether there were only professional scribes or amateur writers as well, and maybe some sense of how integrated the scribes were with the rest of the society.

        I mean, imagine you're an archaeologist from the year 3000 trying to figure out why this "pizza" stuff was so wildly popular in ancient New York. Suddenly the nutritional information on the back of a pepperoni wrapper is vitally important.

        the text you are looking for is " A canticle for Leibowitz", [wikipedia.org] by Walter Miller. I distinctly remember that in the story there's a little note attributed to Leibowitz himself, that reads:"Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels—bring home for Emma."
        upon this, and other finds, a civilisation is reborn after a nuclear war.

        Couriously enough, I read the book because it was quoted in the novel "Space" [wikipedia.org], by James Michener, when one of the main characters wants to leave a legacy of love for science. Remeb

      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        not sure any of the unhealthy, or downright toxic, substances in pepperoni would be any help in determining why pizza was popular.
      • by Nyder (754090)

        ... Suddenly the nutritional information on the back of a pepperoni wrapper is vitally important.

        If we can't understand what the nutritional information of the back of any food really says, i'm pretty sure the archaeologist is going to have trouble also.

        Anyways, real pizza doesn't come from a store.

    • "I have picked-up the trust and courage to write to you this letter with divine confidence that you are a reliable and honest person who will be capable for this important business transaction ..."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      my dad studied this stuff for his phd in the 50s, and he told me once, when I was a little kid, that the museum storerooms are overflowing with papyri and cuniform clay tablets, and most of them are todo lists, and doodles and stuff like that - just like most of the paper and e stuff we write today

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:32PM (#36886066)
    As a late antique historian, I have to point out (to defend our territory, and, at the same time, avoid offending historians of an earlier period) that these are not "ancient Egyptian" in the sense most people mean. These are very late antique. I am glad to see a project like this, however. It's because of mundane papyrus stashes like these that we know more about daily life in Egypt, and Alexandria in particular, than any other area in late antiquity. For those who might be interested in the subject, I recommend R. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (1993), C. Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity (1997), and the recent Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700, edited by Bagnall (2007), as some great places to start.
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      As a late antique historian

      We are saddened by the passing of yet another antique historian, and offer our sincerest condolences to your next of kin
    • by mooingyak (720677)

      Can you recommend any works for earlier periods? I'm a casual historian (history buff? not sure of the best way to put that. hobbyist? you get the idea) myself and currently looking into pre-Ptolemaic Egypt. I have a (as yet unread) copy of Nicolas Grimal's A History of Ancient Egypt, but I'm not sure where to go next.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I'm afraid my own fields of study do not extend so far back, so I cannot speak about pre-Ptolemaic Egypt with any expertise. I can say that a standard introductory work in English is Cyril Aldred's The Egyptians (1984) and it receives fairly high marks in the reviews. Even after you finish Grimal, Aldred may prove worth reading as well. The Francophone tradition of scholarship, as represented by Grimal (a work translated from the French), is different in nearly all fields than the Anglophone (which is not t
        • by mooingyak (720677)

          Thank you. I'll dig in on those and then curse you or laud you to the skies in a few months' time :)

    • by GNious (953874)

      Egypt in Late Antiquity (1993)

      It really doesn't take a lot for something to be considered old and/or antiquated these days.

  • by Comboman (895500) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:37PM (#36886124)

    There's your problem. These symbols that you're translating as "Door of Heaven" should be something more like "Star Gate".

  • This one says d-r-i-n-k-y-o-u-r-o-v-a-l-t-i-n-e Cryptic!
  • by sycorob (180615) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:40PM (#36886150)

    I heard about this on RadioLab awhile ago - a trash dump full of fragments of old scrolls. I believe it was the "Detective Stories" episode: http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/10/ [radiolab.org]

    They were saying it would take centuries to match up all of the pieces, because they only had a few people working on it, and so many scraps to go through. My immediate thought was that they should scan them all and put them on the Internet, and some bored 17 year old would write a program in Scala that would run in the cloud and match everything up in a weekend. Sounds like somebody else had the same idea ...

  • by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday July 26, 2011 @01:57PM (#36886344) Homepage Journal
    I started doing one, but couldn't finish. I got as far as 3.1415926535897 93238462643383 27950288419716 93993751058209 74944592307816 40628620899862 80348253421170 but then I got bored. Meaningless gibberish. I did sneak a peek at the last page though. Turns out the last digit is 8.
  • The web takes ages to load. Let me guess: It got SlashDDoSed...
  • I think this kind of shit gives me hope that the internet isn't just for porn and poker anymore. What a great and smart way to exponentially increase the resources of the project. Stuff like this, and folding@home, and other crowd-sourced projects are an amazing phenomenon. Whoever is in charge knows how to sell it too, with the whole "read it while you translate it" concept, which kind of turns the whole thing into a video game. Nice work by the Oxford folk.
  • "Images may not be copied or offloaded, and the images and their texts may not be published. All digital images of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri are © Imaging Papyri Project, University of Oxford. The papyri themselves are owned by the Egypt Exploration Society, London. All rights reserved."

    They want help transcribing these documents, but don't want anyone to keep copies of the images? How rude.

    • by BillX (307153)

      Man, these copyright extension acts are really getting out of hand.

      Kidding aside - so much for letting opencv spend a night or two on it.

  • Make it a facebook games, and get millions of players overnight. Give them a free virtual hat or something.

  • Just registered and tried to transcribe some fragments, but either the interface is completely non-intuitive (and any help missing), or the app doesn't work in Firefox.

    Quite a shame, finally found a fragment I could transcribe too :(
    • by serbanp (139486)

      app works in firefox just fine. I'm not sure you have to register to start transcribing.

      • by Elledan (582730)
        I'm left clueless, then. What is the keyboard supposed to do anyway? I press the character I am reading, but nothing happens, and I can't see another way one'd transcribe it... I'd RTFM, but there isn't one :(
    • by systemeng (998953)
      I'm in firefox 5 in Linux and had no problem with the app except that the contrast on the pictures was so poor that I had to open them in GIMP and adjust the levels to even see markings on the scroll. 10 times the resolution would be needed for me to make much more of it than dark outlines of scrolls.
  • Am I the only one disappointed by the fact that I cannot listen to the translation? This site would be a thousand times better if, after you translate the piece, it would do a simple greek text to english speech translation. Heck even if it didn't talk it would be nice to know the english translation of the text at least.
  • Images may not be copied or offloaded, and the images and their texts may not be published. All digital images of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri are © Imaging Papyri Project, University of Oxford. The papyri themselves are owned by the Egypt Exploration Society, London. All rights reserved.

    I think translating these are a good idea but hell if the above isn't a killjoy for crowd-sourcing. Yes we want you to work for us.. no you can not take a bit copy of something you find really interesting that you've helped us out with.

  • match-up letters on scanned fragments of papyrus
    Is this [youtube.com] why?

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