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Science Technology

Computer Reveals Stone Tablet "Handwriting" 42

Posted by timothy
from the so-who-was-this-rosetta-guy-anyhow dept.
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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Computer Reveals Stone Tablet "Handwriting"

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  • by mbone (558574) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:44PM (#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.

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:50PM (#28561935) Homepage

    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.

    • by socz (1057222)
      If you can use this technology for Socrates related texts, then you got my support!
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by icebike (68054)

      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.

      • by samkass (174571)

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

        • by pbhj (607776)

          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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rlseaman (1420667)

        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 i

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 02, 2009 @01:55PM (#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.

    • by socz (1057222)
      how much would shipping cost on a drive like that??????????
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ZX-3 (745525)

      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.

    • 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).
    • You could engrave your entire collection of Chuck Norris movies to it.
  • Now we can figure out which one of them wrote that nasty message on the bathroom stall door! Finally, justice will be done!

  • Time to break out the Stone of Triumph!

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

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:05PM (#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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fallen Kell (165468)
      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
    • by Rewind (138843)

      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.

  • A computer can do something in a fraction of the time it would take a human!
  • Ahem.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by hansraj (458504) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:14PM (#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.

    • by KritonK (949258)

      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!

  • by trb (8509) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:30PM (#28562709)
    They have identified their first inscription....

    ALL YOUR VASE ARE BELONG TO US
  • Decoded. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Icegryphon (715550) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:31PM (#28562729)
    Upon Decoding the Tablets they found out one of the tablets said "The Game".
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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 ;)"

    • by pbhj (607776)

      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.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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