Computational Papyrology


An article featuring MSI Principal Investigator Lucy Fortson (Physics and Astronomy) recently appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of the College of Liberal Arts Reach magazine and was reposted on the College of Science and Engineering website. The project, called Ancient Lives, uses the help of amateurs to translate ancient writing. This project invites the general public to translate documents from Egypt, the majority from the first and second centuries CE. The documents are mostly written in ancient Greek, which was the official language of Egypt at that time. Dozens of volunteers may work on a single fragment; most don’t speak Greek, so they use pattern recognition to identify the letters and words.


MSI’s role in this project is to help Professor Fortson develop software that will take the volunteers’ results and use the most common translations for a given fragment to create a master transcription. One of the project’s goals is to create computational statistical methods for data-mining the texts, basing these methods on similar ones used in other sciences. The MSI manager for this project is Dr. Anne-Francoise Lamblin, the Research Informatics Support Systems Program Director. She and MSI user consultants are working with Professor Fortson to develop the software. This project falls under MSI's new Consulting Services program, which provides technical support for long-term projects.