Nozomu Okuda and Dr. Roger Macfarlane, BYU Department of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature
Digital epigraphic databases can be of interest to scholars who study the past. Epigraphy — a word which combines the two Greek roots epi-, meaning “above” or “on,” and graphe, meaning “writing” — is the study of inscriptions. Among the epigraphic publications are commemorations, dedications, proclamations, and even general information, all of which were engraved upon more or less permanent media. Thus, those messages from the past continue to convey information in the present, thereby making epigraphy an important aid to scholarship of the past. Despite the longevity of inscriptions, their media may be too large, fragile, or important to make transporting them practical. For this reason, providing Internet-accessible images can provide scholars an opportunity to read the inscriptions without incurring relatively high travel expenses.
For this project, we collected photographs of ancient Greek and Latin inscriptions. Dr. Joshua Sosin, director of the Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing (DC3), was interested in starting a database of ancient Greek inscription images and GPS data. Prof. Macfarlane, a close colleague to Dr. Sosin, discovered the project idea and, with Dr. Sosin’s blessing, began laying plans to contribute to the effort. Nozomu Okuda contributed to the project by taking pictures of both ancient Greek and Latin inscriptions he found while participating in a study abroad in Europe. We all found common interest in the intersection of classical languages and computer technologies.
Before departing for Europe, there was some preparatory work to be done. Prof. Macfarlane already had a Nikon D5100 camera which would enable us to take pictures of inscriptions. To get GPS information, we obtained a Nikon GP-1A GPS attachment for the camera. We also took time to investigate sites and museums which not only had inscriptions of which we could take pictures but also were located within the areas scheduled in the itinerary for the 2014 Europe Art History/Classics study abroad. Prof. Macfarlane was a co-director for and Nozomu Okuda was a participant in this study abroad.
During our stay in Europe, we took pictures of inscriptions in various locations. Rome, Olympia, Delphi, and Athens were among the locations where we found Greek and Latin inscriptions. Although we were most interested in inscriptions found out in the open (such as at archaeological sites), we also took pictures of inscriptions collected in museums. To prevent losing images, we regularly saved the pictures of the inscriptions on a portable external hard drive.
After returning from Europe, we organized the pictures and contributed them to Dr. Sosin’s project. Organization involved renaming the image files so that the filenames gave a simple description of where the inscription was found. It also involved sorting out duplicate pictures and superfluous pictures. When necessary, some of the pictures received image manipulation so as to crop out unnecessary parts or to blur out the faces of people. After that work, we uploaded a compressed folder containing the images to a shared Dropbox so that Dr. Sosin and his team could access the images.
As a result of this work, we gathered and submitted 638 files, which totaled 7.22 GB of information, to Dr. Sosin and the DC3. This data includes 333 JPEG files, 300 NEF (the Nikon camera’s raw image file format) files, one MOV file (which shows an inscription on a pillar), and four TIFF files (which are the result of blurring out identifiable faces in these pictures; the raw image of these pictures were not included in the submission). Of this total, there are 176 files that had associated GPS data; 92 are JPEG files, and 84 are NEF files.
There is yet work to be done on the pictures we have collected. One important work still to be done is compositing pictures of inscriptions too large to fit into one picture. We have already done some compositing work, but there are still a number of compositing projects that could be done. In addition, there is the work of associating publication data with the pictures. It would be good to know where to find scholarship on the inscriptions shown in the pictures.
In conclusion, our inscription photographing project was successful. We were able to collect pictures of various Greek and Latin inscriptions, obtain GPS data on some of these pictures, and submit them to Dr. Sosin for use in a digital epigraphic database. As there is more work that can be done with the pictures we have collected, we look forward to future projects to address these issues.