Ancient documents go digital at Duke

Posted July 30, 2013

— One university in the Triangle is revealing new insight into what it was like to live in ancient times.

Duke University professor Josh Sosin said papyrus fragments offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of people who lived thousands of years ago.

“They put us in touch with real life in a way that no other source from antiquity does,” he said.

Ancient documents are meeting the digital age at Duke University, where researchers are creating a kind of Wikipedia to translate what those documents say.

Duke was the first university to digitize its collection of 1,500 papyrus fragments.

papyrus Duke creates 'Wikipedia' of papyrus scraps

Sosin is leading the charge to let people translate them online.

“It can take weeks for a single scholar to translate just one fragment,” Sosin said. “Unleashing brain power from all over the world will speed up that process. We have tools that allow anyone to edit unedited texts. Not just anyone - you have to know a bit of Greek.”


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  • See Chart Aug 1, 2013

    Oddly that in this digital age the methods in use now to help
    us digitize record & preserve ancient archives will be obsolete in just a few decades if not sooner.
    I am having this problem as a photographer since 1953 having many
    of my digital back up hard drives unable to interface with newer
    This rapid change in technology is a challenge to archivists who
    may face an electronic dead end with all their storage of info being in a short time unreadable or Heaven forbid, lost.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Jul 30, 2013

    This story is timely for me, as I am currently reading a book about the 1417 re-discovery of the great lost Lucretius poem "On the Nature of Things" by Italian book hunter Poggio Bracciolini.

    Many writings from our past history have been lost, and preservation efforts are very important work.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Jul 30, 2013

    "Duke was the first university to digitize its collection of 1,500 papyrus fragments."

    Way to go, Duke! With all the ugly news going around for these past 6 months, this story is 1) positive, 2) inspiring, and 3) education-related, all at the same time!

    Your project is a very noble one, Josh Sosin.

    Thanks Brian Schrader and Rene Gupta for your work on this piece.