Computer Science and Papyrology, the study of ancient texts written on papyrus, may not appear to intersect, but digital imaging technology offers benefits and collaboration opportunities for researchers in both fields.
Baylor University hosted researcher Dr. Brent Seales who gave a lecture called “Digital Unwrapping: Homer, Herculaneum and the Scroll from Ein Gedi.”
Dr. David Jeffrey, professor of literature and humanities, introduced the distinguished researcher, who has received $18 million in research grants from sponsors, including the National Science Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, U.S Army and Google.
Seales is a professor and chairman of the department of computer science and director of the Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky.
Seales was also a visiting scientist at Google in Paris from 2012-2013.
Seales’ research program pertains to digital imaging and computer vison applied to the restoration of surgical technology, antiquities and data visualization.
“We have a lot of students here interested in reading ancient and medieval texts,” said Jeffry, who specializes in medieval literature.
Seales’ talk was about new methods for imaging and analysis used in reading ancient inscriptions, manuscripts and scrolls.
“He makes texts that were illegible legible, without unrolling the scrolls so as to damage them further,” guest lecturer Dr. Kevin Funderburk said.
In 1977, archaeologists unearthed a 1,500-year-old scroll in Ein Gedi, an oasis in Israel near the Dead Sea. Part of the scroll is from the beginning of the Book of Leviticus and was written in the late sixth century, making it the oldest scroll from the first five books of the Hebrew Bible to be found since the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Unfortunately, the scroll was too charred and damaged for researchers to analyze the contents.
The Israel Antiquity Authority made a 3D image scan of the Ein Gedi scroll and sent the scans to Seales who had developed a digital imaging software which allows users to virtually open the scroll and examine the contents.
At 7 cm long, the scroll is extremely fragile and must be handled with extreme care.
The software Seales uses layers of digital images over the original document, enhancing color and increasing resolution. Detailed manuscripts are incredibly valuable to researchers and scholars.
Seales’ work can also prevent accidents which occur during the restoration of old documents and artifacts. In jest, Seales referred to an example of a Spanish painting restoration gone bad in one of his PowerPoint slides.
In 2012, a Spanish woman attempted to restore a fresco painting of Christ from the 1930s. Her amateur attempt was met with shock and dismay by the art world. Digital imaging software can present artists with the original image and hopefully help make these types of mistakes less frequent.
The lecture began at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday and was held in Cox Lecture Hall of the Armstrong Browning Library.
The event was hosted by the Department of Classics and Institute for the Studies of Religion.