Lost and Found
Core members of the West Semitic Research Project, a photo archival project that has amassed a collection of more than 100,000 images of ancient inscriptions, have developed a logical extension known as InscriptiFact, which collects, digitizes and organizes WSRP images in a user-friendly format.
Bruce Zuckerman, associate professor of religion in the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, and his colleague Marilyn Lundberg are director and associate director, respectively, of the project.
The Internet database prototype became available online in May with a test set of 840 images. By year’s end, this will be increased to 5,000 images.
Within three years, because of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the database is expected to house more than 20,000 high-resolution images available for use by anyone who registers and establishes a password online.
Its creators say InscriptiFact is the first of a kind. Other digitized databases of ancient images are available, but none with the high-resolution images and advanced search and display features found in InscriptiFact.
“We are the leaders of our field in computer imaging technology,” Zuckerman said.
“This will be a tremendous aid to scholars studying these important texts. And the educational potential of InscriptiFact for the general public is also significant.”
Studying ancient texts, Zuckerman said, can be challenging because in many cases significant portions of the writings are either gone or so obscured that they can no longer be seen.
WSRP has harnessed advanced technologies in photography, computer imaging and enhancement to reclaim ancient texts, in many cases making their readings available for the first time since they were written.
“When you have these kind of clear images, you study things differently,” he said. “Because of the quality of data, you ask different questions and get better answers. Because the data is so detailed, we have to totally rethink our methodology in studying it. It’s like working on a very big jigsaw puzzle or a crossword puzzle or a little of both.”
Other members of the project are Zuckerman’s brother, photographer Kenneth Zuckerman and Leta Hunt, a software development expert from USC’s Information Services Division who serves as associate director.
For the past 20 years, the Zuckermans, have developed advanced photographic techniques for capturing images of ancient texts from biblical times.
This past summer, for example, the brothers were in Berlin photographing worn text on the kilt of a 14-foot statue. They used a 9-foot-high studio camera stand and large-format camera.
The brothers gained national attention in the early 1990s, while working with a team of scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Together they employed specialized infrared imaging cameras to uncover a previously undeciphered phrase in a Dead Sea Scroll that made reference to “the Book of the Words of Noah.”
More recently, a team led by Zuckerman and Lundberg documented the earliest-known alphabetic inscriptions, written on a cliff face in the Wadi el Hol, literally, “the Gulch of Terror” in the Sahara desert in southern Egypt. This work was featured on the front page of the New York Times.
Visit the USC West Semitic Research Project at: http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/index.html.
- Pledging Allegiance April 9, 2012 8:45 AM
- Scientists Identify Major Source of Cells’ Defense Against Oxidative Stress April 9, 2012 8:34 AM
- LGBT Students Speak Freely at uRap April 9, 2012 8:30 AM
Election 2012Political coverage and opinion from USC experts
Think USCOpinion and ideas from the University of Southern California
USC in the News