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The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents

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The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents

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 happens to be put up for more information about new imaging technology that is being used to show previously illegible ancient inscriptions.

I’m here to meet up with Dr Jane Massйglia, an Oxford alumna, former secondary teacher and now research fellow for AshLI (the Ashmolean Latin Inscription Project). Jane actively works to encourage general engagement that is public translating these ancient documents. There are numerous nice samples of this: calling out on Twitter for the interested public to have a stab at translating these inscriptions that are ancient.

The second person I’m meeting today is Ben Altshuler, ‘our amazing RTI whizzkid.’ RTI, or Reflectance Transformation Imaging, is the software used to decipher previously impenetrable inscriptions. Ben Altshuler, 20, happens to be working with CSAD on his gap year prior to starting a Classics degree at Harvard later this year.

What is the remit of CSAD and how did it come to be?

‘The centre started about 20 years ago,’ Jane informs me. ‘It was born away from several big projects involving original texts like the Vindolanda tablets (a Roman site in northern England which includes yielded the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain). There clearly was suddenly a need to house various projects that are different Classics looking at primary source material, and a feeling that it was better joined up together. It makes sense: epigraphers, the folks who study these ancient inscriptions – do things in a similar way with similar resources and technology.

‘in terms of what we do now, the centre currently holds a true number of projects like AshLI, the Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions (CPI) together with 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 that are stacked floor to ceiling at the heart.

‘Some of the ongoing work on the centre is in sifting and analysing what is during these archives. The system that is new even more accessible – within the immediate future we are going to have the ability to view the squeezes on a computer and, within 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.’

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