Author Archives: ltweten

Spells, Potions, and Curses of the Ancient World

Happy Halloween! Today’s post is a slight departure from our regular talk of digital humanities, but still has an epigraphic focus – we’re looking at ancient papyri texts with spells, curses and potions.


Invisibility Spell

P. oxy. LVIII.3931

P. oxy. LVIII.3931

Translation by Richard L Phillips:[1]

ASSESOUO, dim the eyes of every man or woman, when I go forth, until I achieve as many things as I wish, and I say, Choreith, listen to me, (you) who are in charge of the universe, ALKME, master of the sea; (you) who are in charge of the night. 

 

POxy.v0058.n3931.b.01.hires

P.Oxy.LVIII 3931; Papyrology Rooms, Sackler Library, Oxford

The back side of the papyrus seems to have a potion recipe on it, cautiously restored as:

Soak fine….in oil with crocodile dung and a few mature mallows and rub on the face.

Crocodile dung sounds really gross, but weighed against the benefits of invisibility…I might be tempted.


 

Prophetic Dreams

To see a true dream:

Upon going to sleep say after you have eaten ritually pure food, “Verily by Neith, verily by Neith, if I shall succeed in a certain activity, show me water, if not, fire.” 

Aegis_of_Neith-H1550-IMG_0172

Neith, Goddess of War and Hunting, Nurse of Crocodiles, Cow of Heaven, Opener of the Ways.

These two examples basically mean the ancients sat around doing the papyri equivalent of a Buzzfeed quiz;  Which psychic power should you have?[2] Or at least, that they had the same silly desires we do – invisibility and the ability to tell the future. What other frivolous concerns did they decide were worth dabbling in the supernatural?


Curses

Spell for the Chariot Race

Spell for the Chariot Race

Translation:

“…Sarakenos Belehmu Parthaon Didyme Nymphike Pele- Strabos…by the holy names that are attached to you…smite the horses of the Blues, hold them back so that…Parthaon Nymphike Strabos Pele-. I adjure you, spirit of the dead, by (voces magicae). I adjure you […by] Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Bouel, go off to the (hippodrome?) so that you may cast down, cause to fall, and bind the…Parthaon Didyme Strabos Nymphike Pele-…I adjure you by the God of the Gods…Ousirapis Ousor Mnevis Ous-…of the Lord Ouser-…drag, cause to fall…smite…”[3]

The text of this curse, from 4th Century Beirut,  is missing the end of each line but it is clearly a curse against the horses rather than the charioteer. Chariot races were extremely popular in the Roman world and people got as heated about their faction as any modern sports fan does for their team – check out the Wikipedia entry on the Nika riots,”the most violent riots in the history of Constantinople”; it began in the hippodrome, escalated to the nearby palace and half the city was destroyed.

Curse tablets directed against sporting rivals or specific horse teams like the one above are often found buried in and around the sites of chariot races, but curses were also a popular way to deal with legal troubles, business rivals and thieves.[4]

The commonalities between spells, curses and potions of the ancient world are that they invoke the gods – the more, the better, it seems – there is a ritual formula that anyone can use, no special training necessary, and they tend to borrow foreign words in much the same way that modern tv shows throw out Latin or Sumerian when they want to really impress the viewers. Co-opting foreign words because they sound more magical is just one more thing that hasn’t really changed with time.

Have a happy Halloween, everyone, and if you find any crocodile dung…let me know how that invisibility spell works out for you.

Jack-o'-Lantern 2003-10-31

Jack-o’-Lantern 2003-10-31


 

[1] R. Phillips, “Blinding as a Means of Becoming Invisible” ICS 35-36 (2010-11) 111-20.

[2] I got Clairvoyance, for the record.

[3] H. Amirav, G. Bevan, D. Colomo

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_tablet


Further Reading:

Adams, Geoff W (2006), The social and cultural implications of curse tablets [defixiones] in Britain and on the Continent, Studia Humaniora Tartuensia, 7.A.5: 1–15.

Baker, K. (2003), ‘Greco-Roman Curses: Curse Tablets’, History of Magick

Kotansky, Roy, Greek Magical Amulets: the inscribed gold, silver, copper and bronze lamellae (Part I: Published Texts of Known Provenance), Papyrologica Coloniensia 22/1, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994

Ogden, Daniel (1999), “Binding Spells: Curse Tablets and Voodoo Dolls in the Greek and Roman Worlds”, in Ankarloo, Bengt; Clark, Stuart, In Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 3–90.

Tomlin, Roger (2005), Curse Tablets of Roman Britain, et al, Oxford, ENG, UK: Oxford University.

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Epigraphy

Open Access Week, October 28th – 29th

header_865x180

Every year UBC hosts participates in International Open Access Week, a global event aimed at the promotion of open access in scholarship and resarch. From Stone to Screen has been asked to join the panel on Student Innovation in the Open,  where we will present the digitizing work we’ve accomplished over the summer and talk a bit about how these resources are being integrated into classroom use. This is a great opportunity for us to engage with the academic community and discuss the value of open access to material, something we at FSTS feel very strongly about.

Open UBC is held in conjunction with the International Open Access Week, which encourages the academic community to come together to share and learn about open scholarship initiatives locally and worldwide. Open UBC showcases two days of diverse events highlighting areas of open scholarship that UBC’s researchers, faculty, students and staff participate in as well as guests from the global community. These events include discussion forums, lectures, seminars, workshops, and symposia on topical and timely issues from every discipline. All of these events are FREE and open to the public, students, faculty, staff and schools.

All sessions will be held in the Lillooet Room (301), of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Check out the schedule and if there are panels or talks you are interested in registration is free but required; coffee and snacks are provided.

2014_clw_logo

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Future of Archaeology: Why 3D Rendering is Virtually Vital

Since starting to research photogrammetry in preparation for Saturday’s International Archaeology Day workshop, I’ve realized a couple of crucial points. One is that 3D rendering of objects and landscapes is fast becoming a standard practice in archaeology and the second is that the process is one of the few archaeological processes that can be picked up at home with no investment other than your time.

pg

For our workshop we are using the free software 123DCatch, which has apps for computers, tablets and smartphones. The multi-platform app means that a student – if they have WiFi at the dig site – could potentially photograph and render in 3D on site and in mere minutes with their cell phone, producing detailed and accurate copies of artifacts or archaeological features that were once painstakingly drawn by hand.

hd

If you’ve read Kat’s post on her dig over the summer in Italy, you already know there is plenty of slow, painstaking work in archaeology; there is no substitute for the precise, methodical uncovering of artifacts and features long buried under the dirt. (Fun party trick – just mention Heinrich Schliemann’s excavation tactics and watch your archaeologist friends cringe in horror and dismay.) That’s not to say that archaeological geophysics isn’t making strides in its own right, but those methods can only be used to identify buried features; no push of a button is going to actually shift the dirt carefully enough that we can replace eager students “cleaning dirt off of dirt”.

800px-Excavations_in_El-Wad

But where we can save time – in surveys, in rendering the artifacts and features more precisely and in greater detail – we have an obligation to do so. This is not just a question of getting your excavation finished in good time, or even getting the results published. I keep coming back to what Tom Elliott said when opening the EAGLE Conference – that we are all working together as the antidote to the destruction of our shared cultural heritage. This isn’t just an academic’s attempt to justify their work – there are genuine threats to our cultural heritage and the preservation of it is necessary and vital.

The Associated Press reports the Islamic State has taken to destroying key archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria– much of which includes the ancient land of Mesopotamia– and subsidizing their income with black market sales of ancient artifacts. In addition to Mosul, the Islamic State controls four ancient cities — Nineveh, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur– which gives them nearly unbridled access to a treasure trove of statues, tiles, and other highly-coveted items by collectors. Nineveh alone contains 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites. (Brietbart.com Sept. 21, 2014)

We fully believe that any student heading out on a dig in the future should be armed with a basic knowledge of photogrammetry, given how easily accessible the software is and how simple it is to use. Our scholarly focus may be on the past, but we need to keep our eyes on the future at least in terms of the tools and techniques we use in the field.

Further reading:

 A Discussion of the Analytical Benefits of Image-Based 3D Modeling in Archaeology

Photogrammetry in Archaeology: Using the Future to Understand the Past in the Present

Digital Archaeology in the News:

3D Model of the Amphipolis Tomb

Beyond Ankor: How lasers revealed a lost city

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Archaeology, Artifacts, Digital Cultural Heritage, DIY

Bringing the Domitilla Catacomb out of the Dark: Photogrammetry in Action

The first presentation at the EAGLE Conference was by Antonio Enrico Felle and Norbert Zimmermann who work on the Domitilla Project in Rome, and it was arguably one of the most impressive projects I’ve ever seen at a conference. The project has been working since 2006 to create a full 3D model of the Domitilla catacomb, 12km of subterranean burials from the 2nd to 5th centuries CE, which showcases one of the largest inventories of catacomb painting from early Christianity in Rome.

The catacomb was founded by Flavia Domitilla, niece of the emperor Domitian in the 2nd c CE. Christian burials were forbidden within the walls of Rome, so these subterranean burials had to be outside the city limits and there are at least 40 outside of Rome that have been discovered to date. Today catacombs provide the best examples of early Christian art; the Domitilla catacomb itself has over 80 painted tombs, and in the 5th century CE an underground basilica was added and became a pilgrimage sanctuary for the graves of martyrs Nereus and Achilleus.

Flavia Domitilla van Terracina, Nereus en Achilleus, Peter Paul Ruebens 1608

Flavia Domitilla van Terracina, Nereus en Achilleus, Peter Paul Ruebens 1608

The project’s goal was to create a 3D scan of the catacomb in order to facilitate research of the paintings and inscriptions found within, but also so that each feature of the site – chamber, painting or inscription – could be properly geotagged with their exact location. This would allow archaeologists to date the chronological development of the catacomb based on the dates of the tombs, paintings and inscriptions with more precision than had previously been possible.

Domitilla Project

Domitilla Project

Beginning in 2006 with three scanning campaigns, the team set out to determine the viability of using 3D laserscanners to create a digital copy of the catacomb.

The scanner orientates itself on temporarily applied reflector points (Fig.1). In 360-degree panorama-scans it generates so-called point clouds, which reproduce the surrounding area of about 1 m distance as a 3D-structure. In order to connect several scans with each other, further scan positions with at least five already known reflector points are selected. At the same time as the scan, a digital camera mounted on the scanner produces photo data that can directly be applied onto the point cloud. The advantage of this method lies in the mobility of these point clouds, which can be viewed from the outside as well as the inside and which can be virtually entered. Depending on the projection and position, a ground plan, cross- and longitudinal sections and 3D views are retrievable.

Once successful tests had been completed, the team moved forward with the scanning – moving the laserscanner eight meters for each set of shots, the scanner would record 2,000 points at each set up. They estimate they did two months of post-processing for every two weeks of fieldwork, and scanning continued through the beginning of their 2009 season when they registered the 1,800 single scans into a comprehensive point cloud. The final point cloud for the entire catacomb model contains 2 billion points, each with digital coordinates. This means anyone searching the model can pinpoint exactly where each feature of interest is located, and brings the epigraphy, topography, archaeology and art history of the catacomb together in a single application. Now that the digital scanning is complete, they are working on bibliographic information on the paintings and the saints buried in the catacomb.

To create photorealistic 3D models of the fresco paintings, meshed models are calculated from the point clouds and high resolution digital photos are applied to the model:

Domitilla fresco of  the so-called Chamber of King David

Domitilla fresco of the so-called Chamber of King David

The future of the project is a joint venture working with Terapoints on creating high quality visualizations of large data sets, such as the Domitilla Catacomb, as well as integrating the 3D photos of frescoes into the model.

In order to use the precise scan data as directly and unaltered as possible, the Domitilla-team was enhanced by new collaboration partners: the Institute of Computer Graphics and Algorithms of the Technical University of Vienna and the company Imagination, which are jointly developing the point-cloud viewer Scanopy. With its help extremely large point-clouds can be viewed in real time; the goal is to further develop this program according to the needs of archaeologists and building researchers.

There are some incredibly exciting developments in archaeological reconstructions happening these days. We’ve come such a long way from Sir Arthur Evan’s controversial reconstructions at Knossos. Digital models can be reconstructed, reinterpreted and manipulated a thousand different ways without ever degrading or damaging the fragile archaeological remains, which affords researchers more opportunity to explore theoretical reconstructions than ever before. And once the initial scans are done, digital sites are accessible to anyone with an internet connection, meaning it would be entirely possible to do a tour of the Domitilla Catacomb in any classroom in the world. There is no replacement for seeing sites like this in person, but for so many of us, travel and access to sites like this are simply out of reach; he Lascaux Caves, for example, have been closed to public viewing since 2008 because of fungus that threatens the paintings and requires careful monitoring so the images are not lost forever. Digital modelling offers a simple solution to problems of accessibility and responsible cultural heritage management.

For those in the Vancouver area with an interest in photogrammetry, the Vancouver AIA and From Stone to Screen are hosting a free workshop this Saturday, October 18th from 1-4 where participants will learn to create their own 3D models – email photogrammetry@gmail.com to reserve your spot! No prior knowledge required, just a camera and laptop.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Archaeology, Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, Photogrammetry

International Archaeology Day: Photogrammetry Workshop

AIA Vancouver and From Stone to Screen are hosting a free Photogrammetry Workshop on October 18th as part of International Archaeology Day. The event will open with a presentation by Dr. Kevin Fisher on the archaeological applications of photogrammetry, followed by a hands on learning experience.
iad_logo2014
Participants will learn to create a 3D virtual model using 123DCatch, which is a free open source 3D modeling program that can be run on laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Participants will need to downloand the app and create an account with 123DCatch. You will also need an object to render into a 3D model, and a camera and laptop or ipad, or a smartphone to photograph the object and run the app. Volunteers will be on hand for technical assistance.
Please email photogrammetryworkshop@gmail.com to reserve your spot; space is limited and the event will be restricted to 25 people.
Date: Oct. 18th, 2014
Location: Buchanan C203
Time: 1PM – 4PM

Leave a comment

Filed under Archaeology, Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, DIY, photography

Keep Thinking Forward: EAGLE Conference 2014

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you may have heard that we were presenting a poster at the International Conference on Information Technologies for Epigraphy and Digital Cultural Heritage in the Ancient World in Paris at the end of September. I can’t think of a conference more tailored to our specific project aims, and we were thrilled both with the chance to present our work to the epigraphic community and to be able to travel to Paris for a week.

egl_web_logo

The conference was organized by the Europeana Eagle Project and hosted by the École Normale Supérieure and the Collège de France Chaire Religion, institutions et société de la Rome antique.

EAGLE, The Europeana network of Ancient Greek and Latin Epigraphy is a best-practice network co-funded by the European Commission, under its Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme. EAGLE will provide a single user-friendly portal to the inscriptions of the Ancient World, a massive resource for both the curious and for the scholarly.

It was, in the words of keynote speaker Tom Elliott, an opportunity to “bring together people with unknown projects for collaboration and exchange” but also a chance to “recognize the valuable traits we all share; respect for the past and inquisitiveness” as we work on the “resurrection and reintegration of ancient texts into active memory”. There were some incredibly exciting projects shared over the three day conference, many of which I will share in subsequent posts, but for now I’d like to try to impart a little of the excitement Dr. Elliott started us off with.

If the name is not familiar, Dr. Elliott is the Associate Director for Digital Programs and Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. He began his adventures in digital epigraphy in 1995 at UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina as a graduate student digitizing 35mm slides, a project which quickly evolved into EpiDoc.

epidoc

EpiDoc is an international, collaborative effort that provides guidelines and tools for encoding scholarly and educational editions of ancient documents. It uses a subset of the Text Encoding Initiative‘s standard for the representation of texts in digital form and was developed initially for the publication of digital editions of ancient inscriptions (e.g. Inscriptions of Aphrodisias, Vindolanda Tablets). Its domain has expanded to include the publication of papyri and manuscripts (e.g. Papyri.info). It addresses not only the transcription and editorial treatment of texts themselves, but also the history and materiality of the objects on which the texts appear (i.e., manuscripts, monuments, tablets, papyri, and other text-bearing objects).

We have to remember that it is impossible to become an expert in all fields; few historians, archaeologists or epigraphists graduate from their program of study having also obtained a computer programming degree. At times, it seems the humanities field is destined to always lag behind in terms of technological advancement. The EAGLE Conference, however, quickly put this false idea to rest. As digital media becomes more and more integrated in our daily lives, more and more are we able to pick up the basics and begin the process of digital cultural heritage management, which is going to be vital to the long term preservation of our shared history. Part of this success is due to the technological community’s commitment to open access software and generosity in creating tutorials, sharing information and trying to create a level playing field. One of the most inspiring things that came out of the EAGLE conference was the almost unanimous commitment from all scholars to openly share their methods and results. The greatest thing the internet can provide is the democratization of education and it is thrilling to know that our project can play a small role in bringing information out of the locked storerooms of academia.

Our poster detailing our digitization process

Our poster detailing our digitization process

Dr. Elliott’s speech encouraged us all to “keep thinking forward; plenty remains to be done,” and reminded us that we are “the antidote to the destruction of cultural heritage”. Put that way poking around old storerooms, writing funding grants and toiling away teaching ourselves coding seems much more exciting.


Lisa Tweten

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, Epigraphy, Greek Inscriptions

I3 Challenge

Last Friday I had the exciting opportunity to present a business pitch for the 2014 MAGIC and GRAND I-cubed (I3) Idea, Innovation and Inaugurate Challenge, jointly hosted by the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre Lab of UBC and GRAND NCE. This opportunity was brought to our attention by Dr. Siobhán McElduff, Associate Professor in the CNERS Department, who is currently serving as the Interim Director at MAGIC and whose support has been instrumental in getting our project off the ground.

As a humanities student, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, having never presented a business canvas in my life. More to the point, we have honestly not been thinking of our project as a business. We are primarily concerned with making the information in our teaching collections readily available to the public free of charge. However, the I3 Challenge sounded interesting and we went in thinking it would be good experience in presenting our work to an audience outside of the Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies department. I signed up and started to quietly panic about how to create an appropriate pitch for the judges.

i3 2

The criteria for the challenge was to:

submit a 2 page business model canvas (essentially a graphic representation/presentation) of an idea and innovation and road map to inaugurate the idea and innovation into a product, service, business, etc. Present a 5-minute pitch of the idea and innovation before a panel of judges drawn from the digital media and investment communities.

We’ve had fundraising events, and have some promotional products available on Zazzle, but this was an entirely different beast. So I started thinking about potential ideas for a product that would be relevant to our project, which – when you’re dealing with digital epigraphy, has a somewhat limited audience – would be commercially viable and interesting to a wide range of people. I realized that one of the major roadblocks to presenting our work outside of classical field is the disconnect most of us have in fully understanding how history is reconstructed. Working with our epigraphy collection over the last 2 years has given me my first real appreciation for how painstakingly difficult it can be to piece together a coherent historical narrative from the fragmented documents we are able to recover, whether they are stone inscriptions, papyrus fragments, codices, or mere mentions and quotations of earlier works in surviving manuscripts.

I thought a strong visual component would be most helpful in presenting this concept to a broader audience, and started thinking about a mobile app focused on the Athenian Empire as represented in the Athenian Tribute Lists, which is the major component of our squeeze collection and the legacy of UBC’s own Dr. Malcolm McGregor. This period represents the birth of democracy and the most famous philosophers and playwrights, and gives the general public a familiar entry point to a deeper discussion of how historians, classicists and philologists work together towards an understanding of the past.

Eg: Solvapps' World History Timeline

Eg: Solvapps’ World History Timeline

We envision a final product that allows users to play a timeline showing the growth and contraction of the allied network over time but also to search by city-state to see the duration and nature of their relationship to Athens or by tributes and commodities paid to the Athenians to better understand the resources and economy of the period and region. There would also be information on the festival calendar of Athens, as tributes were collected during the City Dionysia, and this would allow us to incorporate information the on playwrights, plays and religious festivals that garner the most interest from the non-specialist. Users would gain an appreciation for how historical evidence is gathered, deciphered and reconstructed through an interactive website that provides context and clear visualization of the epigraphic evidence of the Athenian empire. Our app would include the option for users to choose their level of familiarity with the material, with more in-depth information available as desired.

i3

In the end, the presentation was well received by the panel and the audience even though I was one of the few who had presented a mere idea instead of a fully realized product ready to market like some of the other presentations – all of which were fascinating, I have to say. It was an enlightening event and showcased the ingenuity and ambition of some of UBC’s students. In the end, most of us were invited to use the resources of MAGIC and GRAND in getting our projects off the ground; they have offered everything from lab access to market analysis to technological help.

i3 3

I have to take a moment to thank the extremely supportive CNERS Department faculty who showed up to hear the presentations – Dr. Kevin Fisher, Dr. Gwynaeth McIntyre, Dr. Lisa Cooper, Dr. Lynn Welton, Dr. Franco De Angelis, Dr. Dietmar Neufeld –  and my partner in project-management crime, Chelsea Gardner. We were the only humanities department represented at the challenge, and ours was the only department that came out en masse to support the event. Special thanks also goes to Dr. Siobhán McElduff for encouraging us to apply in the first place and for leading the way in interdisciplinary collaboration. Having such great support from our faculty is half the reason we have been able to push this project as far as we have, and we can’t thank you all enough.


By Lisa Tweten

 

1 Comment

Filed under Digital Classics, DIY