Archive | December 2012

Update on Project Goals

Now that Ancient Lives has been active for more than a year, we wanted to remind everyone about project goals. Ancient Lives combines human computing with machine intelligence in order to expedite the process of identifying known texts, contextualizing unknown texts, bringing together fragments for textual reconstruction, and cataloguing fragments in a more expeditious digital way. The overall goal is to rapidly transform image data from papyri into meaningful information that scholars can use to study Greek literature and Greco-Roman Egypt; information that once took generations to produce.

Since Ancient Lives went live in July of 2011, we have logged have over 1.5 million transcriptions. “Volunteer papyrologists” have specifically helped in identifying over 100 texts, including important pieces from ancient authors like Plutarch and Simonides.

With this mass amount of data Ancient Lives is now capable of moving into the emerging field of Digital Philology. We have generated, for the first time, a database of digital Greek texts. Consequently, the project is now working with programming analysts on creating an innovative interface and potential digital text-editing environment that will make this data more accessible to professional scholars and papyrologists. Furthermore, although the core dataset of Ancient Lives has been the Greek papyrus fragments from the city of the sharp-nosed-fish (Oxyrhynchus), the project, in the future, would also like to start collecting transcriptions from the other languages present in the collection (ancient Egyptian, Aramaic, Arabic, Coptic, etc), as well as try to incorporate other datasets from the ancient world. The Ancient Lives team is very pleased with the response and hard work of the Zooniverse volunteers, and would like this site to transform into an online hub where users from around the world can help scholars study the languages and manuscripts of the ancient world.


More Tips for Documentary Papyri

When you start to transcribe a cursive script:

1. Look for words and phrases that typically appear in documents, like χαίρειν (see greeting formula at the end)

2. Watch out for ligatures and unusual forms

Many letters appear differently in different documents.

Epsilon can be straightforward…


…but it often looks like this:


or even this:


Rho can also have several forms:



or with a curled tail:


Upsilon is sometimes written higher than the other letters.

It may be long and broad…


…or small and more pointed


Sometimes letters in documents bear almost no resemblance to their usual forms.

The letter on the right, for example, is open-topped beta.


Look for ligatures…some common ones are:

alpha + iota


epsilon + iota (χαιρειν)


sigma + epsilon


You will also find symbols in documentary papyri. (See the post below for a list of symbols and their meanings.)

The L-shaped year (ἔτους) symbol is very common.


Sometimes horizontal lines are used to mark abbreviations or numbers. (See post on numbers also below.)

Image (abbreviation for ευχομαι)

Here is an example of a greeting formula. The person who is sending the message is in the nominative case (Ἡράκλειος). The person receiving it goes in the dative (Θεμιστοκλεῖ). Ιn this case, an adjective is used to describe Themistocles: τιμιωτάτωι: most honoured. The last part of the formula is the word χαίρειν, greetings!


[All images from published Oxyrhynchus papyri]

Happy Transcribing!