There has been a lot of publicity over the last year or so about the value of various forms of imaging for improving an understanding of artefacts and scripts. At the Ashmolean in Oxford, UK, they have used Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of computer processing and lighting to gather details on proto-Elamite object surfaces that are not visible to the unaided human eye. Proto-Elamite was a writing system borrowed from Mesopotamian, but with an entire new set of symbols used to represent individual words. The article, on the BBC website, also provides a useful description of the background to the society that developed the script.
The world’s oldest undeciphered writing system, which has so far defied attempts to uncover its 5,000-year-old secrets, could be about to be decoded by Oxford University academics.
This international research project is already casting light on a lost bronze age middle eastern society where enslaved workers lived on rations close to the starvation level.
“I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough,” says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.
Dr Dahl’s secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.
In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.
This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets.