Welcome to Ancient Lives

Hi, I’m James Brusuelas, a Research Associate of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and member of the Ancient Lives team. Welcome to Ancient Lives!

This is a new area for the Zooniverse; Ancient Lives is putting hundreds of thousands of images of Greek papyri fragments online. Many of these papyri have remained unstudied since they were discovered more than a century ago, and the team is asking you to help expedite the process of transcription and cataloguing. Our goal is to increase the momentum by which scholars have traditionally identified known and unknown literary texts, and the private documents and letters that open up a window into the ancient lives of Graeco-Roman Egypt.

What do we find in the Oxyrhynchus collection?

In recent volumes of THE OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRI, among personal and private papers, we find Aurelius the sausage-maker who takes out a loan for 9,000 silver denarii, a work contract giving the terms of employment of a public herald in sixth century Oxyrhynchus, Hymenaeus sends a letter via his ‘Ethiopian’ slave, and an edict of the Prefect Vestinus from 62 CE.

As for literary texts, in addition to a previously unknown uncanonical gospel, we have identified a papyrus of the Presocratic philosopher and poet Empedocles on the anatomy of the eye, Dictys of Crete’s prose re-telling of the Trojan War story, new fragments of ancient novels Lollianos’ Phoenician Tales and Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon , new letters of the philosopher Epicurus, various dialogues of Plato, and soon to be published: Euripides’ lost play Melanippe the Wise, the elegies of Theognis, Herodotus’ Histories, Menander’s Misoumenos, and various plays by Aristophanes.

Because of the huge number of images involved, and since no one pair of eyes can see everything, researchers at Oxford and the Egypt Exploration Society, who own and oversee the collection, are inviting volunteers to help catalogue and transcribe the text using a simple web interface. So take a look – and explore Ancient Lives.

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15 responses to “Welcome to Ancient Lives”

  1. Joy Sandles says :

    Fascinating – done 2 texts this morning. Even though I don’t know what they mean, I’ve enjoyed doing them with such an easy method. I will do more as and when I have time, and look forward to seeing what these texts are about. Thenk you for such an opportunity.

  2. Margaret says :

    I have just joined and started transcribing. I have done 2 bits, but I am not sure if they saved correctly. If I look at the lightbox it shows the pieces but not transcribed. Have I saved OK? if not how do I save?

  3. Tom says :

    I took a look. Can figure out a few letters. Will come back. Will try again.

  4. Kenny says :

    It would be easier to get people (especially older kids) interested if the programme provided a rough English translation of what you had decoded – otherwise a great idea

  5. Hazel Brown says :

    Very interested in this project and would like to help if possible

  6. Tim Finney says :

    Thanks very much for making Ancient Lives. A couple of suggestions:

    * Allow people to add tags to a papyrus: e.g. documentary, book hand, Christian (has nomina sacra).

  7. Tim Finney says :

    Sorry. Other suggestions:

    * clickable buttons for uncertain, illegible, lacuna of one letter.

    On last, would click three times if lacuna is (approx.) three letters wide.

    * Some way to leave comment saying that image needs to be rotated. Better still, remember which orientation is most common when someone who has changed the orientation leaves that image.

  8. Metus says :

    Will you include a feature that lets you see how many people have worked on papyri you worked on? Or a feature that lets you see of what the papyri you worked on are part of? Almost makes me want to learn ancient greek, I have such a nicely preserved piece of papyrus.

  9. christophis-pittas says :

    i would have loved to know if Euripides Melanippe the wise is almost intact in the form it will be published ofcourse because the way you mention it is not so clear the same for Epicurus discovered letters —— anyway I appreciate your verry precious effort —— Athens 1 10 2011 Grrece

  10. Robert says :

    Hi James, this project is fascinating. I signed up this morning, and am trying to trascribe some text portions. I’m ready to spend hours on this but I was wondering if some statistics may be provided (such as in BOINC projets): it would be very encouraging to see the a number correctly identified characters, number of participating people, individual or group contributions to the identified texts, etc, or whatever kind of feedback coud be provided at this time or in the near future. Another question : do you have an update for Empedocles and Euripides’ Melanippe publishing ? Thanks. Bests

  11. Lisa Allen says :


    My name is Lisa and I have been enjoying attempting to transcribe some of the ancient papyrus on your website. Unfortunately I am not familiar with ancient Greek but your website does say that you do not have to know how to read and understand ancient Greek. I do however have a basic knowledge of ancient Egyptian and I can tell you that object number; AAL37400 is not ancient Greek but I am sure that it is ancient Egyptian hieratic text.

    I hope this helps.

    Kind regards,

    Lisa Allen.

    • mperale says :

      Hi Lisa!

      Thank you very much for your post. If you could comment on the image in Talk, (link is on the left of the page) saying that it is hieratic, that would be great! Also, you may be able to start transcribing these Egyptian fragments soon! Plans for allowing users to transcribe in languages other than Greek are in the works…

      Theresa Chresand

      • Lisa Allen says :

        Hi Theresa,

        Thank you for your reply. I will leave the comment in Talk about the papyrus that I think is Heiratic Egyptian. I REALLY look forward to the possibility of transcribing Egyptian Heiratic in the near future! 🙂

        Many thanks and kind regards,


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