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Computer Reveals Stone Tablet "Handwriting"

timothy posted about 5 years ago | from the so-who-was-this-rosetta-guy-anyhow dept.

Science 42

ewenc writes "A computer technique can tell the difference between ancient Greek inscriptions created by different artisans, a feat that ordinarily consumes years of human scholarship, reports New Scientist. A team of Greek computer scientists created the program after a scholar challenged them to attribute 24 inscriptions to their rightful cutter. The researchers scanned the tablets and constructed an average shape for several Greek letters in every tablet. After comparing the average letters between different tablets, they correctly attributed the inscriptions to six stone-cutters."

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42 comments

Are they doing this in 3-D ? (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#28561821)

3-D would be an obvious add-on here - the depth of the cut stone incision should reveal a lot
about the force being used, and I would expect that to be a distinguishing characteristic.

Re:Are they doing this in 3-D ? (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#28561857)

From TFA : "Panagopoulos says his team is looking to use 3D images in the future."

So, not yet.

Re:Are they doing this in 3-D ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28562013)

he makes good pizza too..

A fine new era for classics (3, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 years ago | (#28561935)

As someone who majored in Classics as an undergraduate (before moving on to linguistics), I've gotten a lot of flack in technology nerd circles like Slashdot for spending time in such a field. Nowadays the value of study of the ancient world is seen as offering limited benefits, and the popular image of a classicist is of a bookish loser all alone in his musty, unvisited department. I think that's a pity especially because Classics is a field very ready to use new technology to help us better understand the past. The Oxyrynchus papyri, for example, a bunch of old papers found in an Egyptian garbage dump, have been scanned with state of the art cameras which have revealed whole new texts, including lost works by some of the great classic authors.

So spending time with old inscriptions can still seem a worthy task to the Slashdot crowd. Beyond just using whizbang new technology, the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone for example (see e.g. Parkinson's Cracking Codes [amazon.com] ) ought to fascinate the more mathematically oriented of us.

Re:A fine new era for classics (1)

socz (1057222) | about 5 years ago | (#28562187)

If you can use this technology for Socrates related texts, then you got my support!

Re:A fine new era for classics (0, Offtopic)

icebike (68054) | about 5 years ago | (#28562447)

Bringing it slightly back On Topic, this has nothing to do with translation of already readable stone inscriptions.

Its about determining which hammer and chisel jockey was involved in translating the "written on paper" to the "carved in stone".

This is akin to determining if Margret typed your manuscript or if it was Walter.

Nothing at all about recovering last works or determining if you have risen to the status of a classic author.

So, don't expect any rush of visitors to your department any time soon.

Re:A fine new era for classics (1)

samkass (174571) | about 5 years ago | (#28562727)

Presumably it could also discern the difference between Ancient Margaret of Crete and Walter's Tablets 'R Us Reproductions on 4th and Broadway.

Re:A fine new era for classics (1)

pbhj (607776) | about 5 years ago | (#28571557)

I doubt it, if it's a reproduction then it's likely to copy the style of the original author, possibly with mechanical precision (which term I use to include using casting or laser cutting). The original tablets would be unlikely to have been created in an attempt to deceive. You can tell peoples handwriting apart, but not if one is forging the other well.

I could be wrong.

Re:A fine new era for classics (2, Informative)

rlseaman (1420667) | about 5 years ago | (#28562945)

Bringing it slightly back On Topic, this has nothing to do with translation of already readable stone inscriptions.

Rather absurd to claim the original post in this thread was off topic. The article is about improving traffic analysis for ancient texts. An expert in ancient texts can't say, "Yay!", as a result?

Its about determining which hammer and chisel jockey was involved in translating the "written on paper" to the "carved in stone". This is akin to determining if Margret typed your manuscript or if it was Walter.

Exactly. And if Walter lived in 1870 and Margret in 1970, that would tell you a lot about the possible authorship of the document.

Nothing at all about recovering last works or determining if you have risen to the status of a classic author.

Experts in classics use all the same techniques of forensics and just plain logic as anybody else. In particular, they must assemble coherent texts from separate sources. This will help produce a self-consistent corpus. It is a prerequisite to all higher levels of scholarship.

Data Storage Medium Longevity (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28561993)

It sounds like this medium is considerably longer lived than paper tape, 9-track reels, CDs, DVDs, or anything else I can think of storing important data on. Now all I need is a high density tablet drive.

Re:Data Storage Medium Longevity (1)

socz (1057222) | about 5 years ago | (#28562159)

how much would shipping cost on a drive like that??????????

Re:Data Storage Medium Longevity (3, Funny)

Amouth (879122) | about 5 years ago | (#28564647)

the drive? cheap

the tablets = very pricy

they always get you with the media

Re:Data Storage Medium Longevity (3, Funny)

ZX-3 (745525) | about 5 years ago | (#28562205)

Back then, they hadn't yet discovered that you could chisel a notch on the edge of the tablet and then use the other side.

Re:Data Storage Medium Longevity (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#28562927)

Cheap, Long-lasting, High-Density. Pick any two.

Some, though hardly all, classical Greek texts survived(often by virtue of being copied a lot, rather than the original surviving) and the SAN behind me will probably be unreadable in 5 years, 10 at the outside; but the SAN could almost definitely hold more data than were written down during the entire course of ancient Greek civilization(and it isn't even a big SAN we are talking about).

Re:Data Storage Medium Longevity (1)

rhyder128k (1051042) | about 5 years ago | (#28563255)

You could engrave your entire collection of Chuck Norris movies to it.

Jews AREW FILTHY ANIMALS (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28562027)

Help me send them on the train to auschwitz to give them a shower

Adolf "j.delanoy" Hitler.

Ah haa (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 5 years ago | (#28562067)

Now we can figure out which one of them wrote that nasty message on the bathroom stall door! Finally, justice will be done!

Re:Ah haa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28562101)

100 bucks says it was Al Gore.

Re:Ah haa (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 5 years ago | (#28563179)

Couldn't be. Algore invented greek. And the use of rocks in this manner would cause global warmning.

A leap forward for Stonecutters everywhere (1)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | about 5 years ago | (#28562105)

Time to break out the Stone of Triumph!

Now.... (1)

fataugie (89032) | about 5 years ago | (#28562143)

If we can just get them to all register a stone carving sample,
we can expand the database and credit those responsible.

The Computer Didn't Reveal Anything: +1, True (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28562147)

I bet the software application was a neural net.

Yours In Parallel,
Kilgore Trout

Re:The Computer Didn't Reveal Anything: +1, True (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28565483)

That's what I thought. A neural net would do well in a situation like this and it's certainly the tool I'd use.

"correctly attributed"? (3, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 5 years ago | (#28562173)

Seems to me that it is impossible to verify that the machine analysis is correct, only that it matches the analysis done by a trained human. Proving correct attribution would require either a signature on each piece or the testimony of the original artisans.

Re:"correctly attributed"? (2, Informative)

Fallen Kell (165468) | about 5 years ago | (#28562621)

Not really. Once you know you have a good training set (i.e. example work that has been verified and attributed to a particular artisan by being signed, or otherwise documented (like how we know which architects designed certain pyramids in Egypt)), that training set could be used to train the computer to look for other works that match the training set. This is no different than what the current experts are doing now to attribute the works to individuals, the difference is that a computer program has been designed to do the analysis, and it worked on the first sample set given to it. I would say that you need to test a few more samples, but the fact that it was correct on all the samples given so far is a good sign.

Re:"correctly attributed"? (1)

Rewind (138843) | about 5 years ago | (#28562637)

Seems to me that it is impossible to verify that the machine analysis is correct, only that it matches the analysis done by a trained human. Proving correct attribution would require either a signature on each piece or the testimony of the original artisans.

Well see you just didn't read the whole article. Step two involves bringing to life and asking an army of zombie stonecutters.

We tried this before (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28562193)

A scholar suggested to me that we should use computer-assisted greek inscriptions recognition (CAGIR) as an evaluation. I was skeptical at first but he explained the benefits of using it for our employee's day-to-day research. So I decided to let him install the CAGIR (made by Hellas software I think) into 5 offices to see how the users got on. Besides, our translation manager had been using CAGIR in his office and it seemed to work fine, why not try it on the research offices? Once he'd got the machines up and running with CAGIR software we let the users try it out. It all seemed fine to start with: CAGIR was a pretty good replacement for regular service and the users could still do their work as normal.
Alas it did not stay that way. After a few days, I had lost count of the number of complaints received from users who could not find things they were used to (like alpa and omega!) or tasks they could not perform that they previously could with the greek inscription dictionary they used before. The final straw came when one researcher lost several hours work when the CAGIR software suddenly had an error reading from an ancient trojan tablet, and exchanged it for a modern greek inscription. Needless to say, the Hellas support team offered no support whatsoever. I made the employee remove CAGIR from the offices and lets just say he's not with us anymore.

Amazing! (1)

Blixinator (1585261) | about 5 years ago | (#28562211)

A computer can do something in a fraction of the time it would take a human!

Ahem.. (3, Funny)

hansraj (458504) | about 5 years ago | (#28562323)

Q: Why does it take years for people to decode those scripts?
A: Because it is all greek to us.

Thank you, thank you. No autographs please.

Re:Ahem.. (1)

KritonK (949258) | about 5 years ago | (#28562627)

Q: Why does it take years for people to decode those scripts? A: Because it is all greek to us.

And why did it take those Greek computer scientists a lot less?

That's right: because it was all Greek to them!

Re:Ahem.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28564739)

ÎὠμÎÎ á¼(TM)ÎÎÎνÎÎή á¼ÏfÏÎν...

Re:Ahem.. (1)

KritonK (949258) | about 5 years ago | (#28569303)

ÎὠμÎÎ á¼(TM)ÎÎÎνÎÎή á¼ÏfÏÎν...

I couldn't have put it better myself!

this just in (4, Funny)

trb (8509) | about 5 years ago | (#28562709)

They have identified their first inscription....

ALL YOUR VASE ARE BELONG TO US

Re:this just in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28564731)

mod parent up for funny

Re:this just in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28566341)

actually,

ALL YOVR VASE ARE BELONG TO VS

get yovr ancient tablet typography on, byatch

Re:this just in (1)

trb (8509) | about 5 years ago | (#28568369)

> get yovr ancient tablet typography on, byatch

Well, V's were a Roman thing, and this was Greek. I was going to go with sigmas for the E's but I couldn't figure out how to convince the comment system to buy it. I figured P for R and Y for U would be too weird, and the Greek vase thing was silly enough.

Decoded. (3, Funny)

Icegryphon (715550) | about 5 years ago | (#28562729)

Upon Decoding the Tablets they found out one of the tablets said "The Game".

Oh Come On (1)

BigBlueOx (1201587) | about 5 years ago | (#28562769)

You need the old inscription read? Big deal. Give it here.
You just gotta say the words, dood. Piece of cake.

Klaatu, verada, ... ah ... verada, ... ah ... necktie!
No, nickel!
Nectar!!
damn

No blind test ? (1)

SoothingMist (1517119) | about 5 years ago | (#28563299)

From the description of the test, I take it that all known tablets were scanned. The programmers then showed they could categorize those tablets. How well does their program work on unknowns that are not part of their database? A blind test is needed to show that tablets of those sculptors that are not part of ground truth can also be correctly categorized.

Would a 35+ year old technique have done the job? (1)

dakra137 (1590245) | about 5 years ago | (#28565631)

I wonder if applying a 2D Fourier Transform or some other transform to the stone "documents" would have done the trick.

35+ Years ago, Professor Nabil Farhat [upenn.edu] presented what might be called "Handwriting Attribution by 3 Year Olds." He showed an audience 3 different handwritten cursive script documents, let's call them A, B, and C. The texts of the three documents had nothing to do with each other. The authorship of documents A and C was uncontested. The authorship of B was highly contested. He then showed the 2D Fourier transforms of the documents. To any observer, even a three year old, two of the image transforms (A&B) were obviously similar, while one (C) was very different. A was written by Esterhazy, while C was written by Dreyfus. B was the controversial letter behind the Dreyfus Affair [wikipedia.org] .

See also:
Writer identification based on handwriting [ieee.org]

Handwriting? (1)

youn (1516637) | about 5 years ago | (#28568495)

Wouldnt that be chisel writing?

In other news, they just decoded thousand years old hieroglyphics... it said, "Jefferson, if you're reading this, you're spending way too long decoding hieroglyphics in way that was not at all intended ;)"

Re:Handwriting? (1)

pbhj (607776) | about 5 years ago | (#28571655)

Wouldnt that be chisel writing?

Most people doing handwriting use a pen for the actual writing (writing in snow(!) or dust being exceptions). Some use a stylus, I don't see how writing with a chisel in your hand should need a different wording. It's handwriting if you use your hands to hold a tool that is used to mark glyphs on a medium.

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