Border Crossing: Engineers, Papyrologists, and the Graphical Use Interface

  1. 1. Melissa Terras

    Oxford University

Work text
This plain text was ingested for the purpose of full-text search, not to preserve original formatting or readability. For the most complete copy, refer to the original conference program.

The discovery of the writing and stylus tablets from Vindolanda, a Roman Fort built in the late 80s AD near Hadrian's Wall at modern day Chesterholm, has provided a unique resource regarding the Roman occupation of northern Britain and the use and development of Latin around the turn of the first century AD. However, although papyrologists have been able to transcribe and translate most of the writing tablets, the meaning of the majority of the stylus tablets remains obscure. These small wooden plaques with a hollow recess which was once filled with wax and written on by means of a metal stylus are well preserved; however, the wax has deteriorated leaving a wooden surface with small strokes where the stylus pen has occasionally breached the wax covering. Making sense of such minute indentations by eye alone has proved impossible for papyrologists, and the problem is compounded by the fact that many tablets were reused again and again leaving the remains of many texts on the damaged surfaces.

An EPSRC funded project at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, was initiated two years ago to analyse these tablets and develop new image processing techniques to retrieve information from small incisions in damaged surfaces (the techniques developed being applicable to a wide variety of engineering problems). Some headway has been made using wavelet filtering to remove woodgrain in images of the stylus tablets, and developing and appropriating Phase Congruency and Shadow Stereo techniques to identify candidate writing strokes. However, until some interface is put into place between these engineering techniques and the papyrologist, the stylus tablets' texts will not become decipherable because of the complex nature of the papyrology process and the difficulties encountered in expecting a non-mathematical user to utilise such algorithms.

This paper gives a brief background to the project, before discussing the steps taken and problems encountered whilst developing the computer application and user interface for this system. Focussing on the interaction between historians, papyrologists and the application developer, and the design of the graphical user interface, the paper discusses the benefits and problems surrounding such a multi-disciplinary project.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

July 21, 2000 - July 25, 2000

104 works by 187 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (27), ACH/ICCH (20), ACH/ALLC (12)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None