About 2,100 years ago, a Jewish writer deftly rotated a pen to daub the final strokes of black ink onto a piece of paper.
His work, a copy of the Bible from the Old Testament of Isaiah, will soon be completed in the form of a seven-meter scroll. But did he finish his work – or did someone else’s work?
anyway Dead Sea Scrolls Discovered more than 70 years ago, sophisticated computing technologies are now revealing the hidden hands that wrote the famous texts, and Professor Mladen Popovic of the University of Groningen believes he knows the answer.
“My simple idea,” he said, “was to use paleography – their handwriting.”
Palliography is the scientific study of ancient handwritten texts. The goal of the paleontologist is to determine the place and time of writing. The texts come on parchment paper but also on pottery, metal, cloth and even informal graffiti as have been discovered on the walls of Pompeii.
“The way you write, the way I write, is very specific to a person,” Popovich said. “It’s your muscle movements and it’s very individual.”
a job With Artificial Intelligence (AI) Expert Professor Lambert Schumaker and other team members as part of Horizon .-funded Hands and Bible Projecthas developed new machine learning computing methods to numerically analyze ancient handwriting.
“The beauty of the technology we have now is that you can do high spectral images and get down to the pixel level, and then do all kinds of computations that you can summarize in motion,” Popovich said. “By their handwriting, we can, as it were, shake hands with them.”
The researchers spent many hours painstakingly tracing the Hebrew letters to teach a computer model what ink was and what was not. The results were 3D models of cursive texts with more than 5,000 dimensions of calculations.
Back in a lab in the Netherlands, Marouf Dali, one of the team members, was puzzled by the results the computer model was producing.
He showed that about halfway through the text of the Isaiah scrolls, the handwriting changed enough to indicate that another writer took charge. While statistically significant, it was barely perceptible to the naked eye.
The researchers considered other options. Can he change his pen? Or maybe he stopped writing and recovered again at a later time?
“They write alike,” said Popovich, “but the most likely explanation is that there are different scribes.” “One transcriber is so good at imitating the other that you can’t really see it with the naked eye.”
While scholars have previously debated whether or not there were multiple writers from the scrolls of Isaiah, this was the first solid evidence that two scribes delayed it.
Could AI be wrong? Less likely, according to Popovich.
“The hominid painter, the expert,” he said, “is much more than a black box.” We don’t really know what’s on our minds. Of course, we have this experience, but we cannot explain all of our paleographic thinking.”
Using a trained computer, he says, paleographic designers are challenged to better explain the notes they make with human eyes.
Being able to delve deeper into the handwriting of individual writers and relate them to various works opens up an entirely new way for researchers to look at texts, as well as understand their own writing culture.
For example, there is evidence that some writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were only learning how to write. The discovery of a writer who wrote both Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts (an ancient language that was a lingua franca in the Middle East 2,000 to 3,000 years ago), is giving researchers new insights into their language abilities.
“Another example is how we view these clerks – is there also some individuality or room for them to maneuver?” Popovich said. “We see there is a discrepancy, so they weren’t just slave bots copying what they were asked to copy.”
With this paleographic approach, these scrolls act as a kind of time machine.
“We can see a small part of what was the cultural development that became the Bible,” he said. “It is the same culture of writing. The way they write here was also the way they worked two to three centuries ago.”
Professor Maria Chiara Scapatichio also uses texts to reveal new details from the lives of the ancients.
Beginning with the era when Rome controlled Egypt between 30 B.C. and A.D. 641, she and her team would travel from Berkeley to Berlin to classify scrolls of papyrus containing Latin as part of the The PLATINUM project powered by Horizon.
They combed the papyrus using techniques such as ultraviolet imaging. In this way, they were able to discover new texts, as well as better understand the meaning of existing texts.
These parts reveal a lot about the daily lives of ordinary people, according to Scatticio.
She added that the team was working on “documents between ordinary people lending things, letters between soldiers asking for new boots, etc.”
But the texts also gave the team an opportunity to better understand the lives of Roman Egyptians and how their identity mingled with Roman culture at the time.
“Multiculturalism and multilingualism are key words for our reality,” Scatecchio said. “It was in fact roughly the same thinking about antiquity, with the necessary caveat due to the distance of time.”
The researchers found the texts of the Enid, the Latin verse penned by Virgil that glorifies the founding of Rome, and is used to teach the local language.
“In the regions around the Empire, Latin was the language of power,” she said. “Rome imposed its powerAnd literature was one of the tools with which to do that.”
Through their research, her team was even able to uncover the first text to show the Arabic translation in Latin, as well as a literary work by Seneca the Elder (father of the well-known Roman philosopher of the same name) that is believed to be completely missing.
The team has collected an extraordinary number of texts in this new study. “In 2023, we will publish a collection of about 1,500 Latin texts on papyrus,” Scapatiquio said.
An earlier set, from 1958, contained only 300 texts. The goal is to allow a wider group of scholars access to written and circulating Latin works from the fringes of the Roman Empire.
“I hope it will be a starting point, using this book as a tool for investigating Roman Orientalism,” she said. It was an open society and a lot of aspects flowed from one culture to another. It wasn’t much different than today.”
The research in this article was funded by the European Research Council of the European Union (ERC). If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.