CSAD's First Term

The Centre was established in Michaelmas Term 1995, but for a variety of reasons Hilary has been its first term of active existence. As if to compensate for this delayed start, the first three months of 1996 have been notably busy, with the lauching of the seminar series, a workshop on the Vindolanda tablets, experimental work on the image enhancement project, testing of new equipment and accessions of new squeezes. The Centre has also received a considerable number of visitors, some of whom have brought their work and primary material with them, as Dorothy Thompson reports below.
The Centre looks forward to an equally busy summer, including the inauguration of the David Lewis Memorial Lecture series by Professor Jameson on May 29. Reports on this and the Centre's other activities will appear in Newsletter no. 3, to be distributed in October.

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Digitising a Lycopolite census

Monday 29 January saw an unusual carload on its way to Oxford: Willy Clarysse from Leuven and Dorothy Thompson from Cambridge and - pride of place on the back seat - the demotic papyrus from Rifeh described by Sir Herbert Thompson in 1907 and recently rediscovered in University College, London. Our destination was the Oxford Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents where this Lycopolite population register was to be digitised. The text is one of the longest surviving of such texts and one of the few from outside the Fayum; it dates from the second century BC. The writing of its 21 columns is small and faint in many places. Already John Tait (UCL) had made a preliminary transcription, and he and Willy Clarysse had then spent several days poring over this text together, turn by turn, with magnifying glass in hand, but much still remained unread. International cooperation needs every modern aid it can find and the chance offered in Oxford of capturing the image of this papyrus in digitised form was a welcome one. Lighting was borrowed from the Ashmolean - and there at the Centre in St. Giles photography began (later in the day the papyrus was walked across to the Bodleian library for scanning with a second camera). For the Centre too - for Charles Crowther and Alan Bowman - this was an experiment, a change from digitising inscriptions. Excitement was in the air. The cameras used were the Centre's Leaf Lumina and the Bodleian library's Kontron; comparison with the image of a photograph showed a marked improvement on the screen but there was no time then for real work on the text. The resulting images were stored in digitised form, for passing down the line to Clarysse in Leuven and Tait in London. Teaching and term then intervened. The scene shifts to late afternoon on Tuesday 19 March 1996. Clarysse and Tait are together in Oxford for a conference and Ursula Kaplony-Heckel from Marburg is also here. It is with some trepidation that they call up the images on the screen in the Documents Centre. Will the text really be more legible than when they last worked together on the original and made only insignificant changes to their earlier readings? (Thompson looks on and listens as they start to look at the screen.) First they must locate where they are (that comes quickly), learn to play with the image, to zoom in and out on the difficult readings and to work the colour contrast that highlights the ink that was faded. Soon work is under way. Three people, no longer crouched and hunched but sitting at ease, stare across at the screen together; the adrenaline starts to flow. Suggestions for readings are made; a quick flip of the screen to two columns earlier allows a speedy check with names and elements of names that went before. Gods' determinatives emerge, a host of local names; the script comes to life. Decipherment is underway; the parts that before were illegible slowly take their place on the page. The transcription is transformed; the texts grows and, though much of this damaged text is still obscure, it is significantly improved (see the facsimile of the transcript above).

I have seen the future and this future works - at least so far. Work in different countries on the same text at the same time can now take place without problem and for a long and difficult text, where the writing is small and faded, the possibility of working on the image on the screen is in itself a great advance. A further lesson is clear. The human element in our work is the most important of all, and the mutual stimulation that comes from cooperative work can be greatly aided but can never be replaced.
Dorothy J. Thompson.

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Corpus of Dated Byzantine Inscriptions

A project to compile a Corpus of Byzantine dated (and datable) inscriptions from Constantinople, eastern Thrace and Bithynia was started by I. Sevcenko and Cyril Mango in the early 1960s. The emphasis of the projected Corpus was on the evolution of script, i.e. to provide an album of good photographic reproductions of all the dated Byzantine inscriptions (in Greek) in a given area. We have added 'datable' inscriptions - those which, although they do not contain an explicit date, can be dated approximately on the basis of independent evidence (e.g., those mentioning a particular emperor or belonging to a building whose date of construction is known from texts). We also decided to include inscriptions that are now lost, but of which there exist reasonably good facsimile copies. We have limited ourselves to inscriptions on stone and one or two on bronze, excluding painted ones or those in mosaic. We have also excluded portable objects (e.g., ivories) thought to be of Constantinopolitan origin. Photographs and measurements were taken in the course of several expeditions so that the raw material is complete (except for a few inscriptions that have come to light in the past few years. In all there are over 100 items, each entry being provided with a bibliography and discussion.

The entries in the Corpus have now been entered into a FileMaker Pro database by Anne McCabe of Christ Church. Most of the photographs for the Corpus have also been scanned at the Centre by Ms. McCabe (at a resolution of 300 dpi) and are now securely stored in digital form on the OUCS Hierarchical File Server. When all the photographs have been scanned, they will be written on to CD-ROM. The project, delayed by the personal circumstances of the two authors, is now within sight of completion and will be ready for publication (by Dumbarton Oaks Publications) in a few months.

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This page was created on 18 April 1996