Category Archives: Digital Cultural Heritage

Finding the Answers in the Squeezes: When We Discovered that Graduate Students Haven’t Changed in 80 years

B1TwJrNCEAAUlhh.jpg-largeWe have a very extensive squeeze collection here at From Stone to Screen.  1051 squeezes, to be exact – although about 200-300 of them are duplicates.  The point of this entire project has been to digitize the squeezes, which we have diligently been doing, and to put them up on an online database.  This hits a snag sometimes when we can’t identify where exactly the squeeze is from.  Such as last Friday when Lisa came across this gorgeous squeeze while she was working at the Digital Initiatives lab.

Normally, we identify our squeezes by an index that was written up by Professor Nigel Kennell in the ’70s or by the handwritten notes by Professor McGregor that has the IG (Inscriptiones Graecae) number or the EM (Epigraphic Museum) number somewhere on the squeeze.  With the delicate state of some of our squeezes, we are very grateful for these references.  When Lisa couldn’t identify this stunning squeeze, though, she decided to try and take it to social media.  She sent out a tweet on Friday afternoon calling all Greek epigraphists to help identify the squeeze which was quickly retweeted around the small but active epigraphic community.

Monday morning we tweeted out the image again hoping to catch some more scholars who hadn’t seen it before the weekend (because, in all honesty, it was late Friday afternoon).  Within a couple of hours we had a very helpful reply that identified the squeeze as a stelae from Aixone.

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left)

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left).

Lisa compared the two images and agreed- they’re a match!  We’re thrilled to have an answer to our mystery so quickly, through the wonders of the internet.  This is one of the first times that we have gone to the public like this for help and it was fun to see how many people were thinking about the squeeze, proof that what we’re working towards will be used by other scholars in our field.

We are also deeply amused by how much simpler this process was than the debates that took place in the 1930s.  One of our favourite parts of our squeeze collection is actually a letter between ‘Mac’ (Malcolm McGregor) and ‘Gene’ (Eugene Schweigert) from 1935 arguing over certain transliterations from a fragment of the Athenian Tribute Lists.  Considering Mac was at the University of Cincinnati and Gene was at Johns Hopkins, the debates must have taken quite a while to come to a resolution.  With how difficult squeezes are to read, it’s understandable that there was a lot to discuss.  Plus, if you’ve read our previous posts about the process of digitizing squeezes, you know that one advantage to our new images of them is that epigraphists no longer needs to be able to read Greek backwards.  Don’t forget, too, that epigraphic Greek was written in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, it’s no surprise that sometimes the arguments came down to a single letter.  Which was backwards.  Today’s accessibility to images enables us to quickly compare images instead of relying on other peoples’ squeezes and readings of the inscriptions.

Beyond that, this letter also gives us an amazing insight into a man who is a legend in our department and a key player in the research on the Tribute Lists.  When this letter was written he would have been finishing up his doctorate at the University of Cincinnati and only 25, around the same age as most of us who are working on this project.  The two men are obviously friends and Gene begins the letter with “Short but violent spell of nostalgia now over.  Its reoccurrence after some… puzzled famous Johns Hopkins physicians.  Nature finally performed her cure.”  Then he goes on to refute some of Mac’s theories and cheekily writes in the middle “Don’t worry about ἐξ ἀπογραφῆς or ἐδήμευΓαν etc. Your guess is just as likely.”   Whether or not Mac was reassured that his guess was just as likely we’ll never know, but this conversation is reminiscent of ones heard around our department all the time.

This letter was written four years before the first volume on the Athenian Tribute List was published by McGregor, Merritt and Wade-Gery.  Both men are mentioned in the letter and at the end Gene says that he wishes he could spend more time with Mac and West.  Allen Brown West, though, died in a car accident in 1936 and the first volume was dedicated to his memory.  The forward in the volume makes it quite clear that his work was invaluable to their research and that his friends missed him very much.  Reading the letter, it’s not hard to see the similarities between these men who were at the beginning of their academic career 80 years ago and those of use who are working on this project today.  It’s comforting, and entertaining, to see that they had to adapt to having long distance friends (which anyone in academia can tell you is a occupational hazard).  In our department, working on a project at this magnitude is only possible because we rely on each as friends as well as colleagues, and it was nowhere near the scale as the ATLs.  Who knows?  It could always keep growing.

The question is, are our letters to each other just as entertaining at the one below?  I think you’ll have to wait 80 years and accidentally find a copy of our e-mails in a drawer to find out.  Until then, here is the sign-off from Gene’s letter.

I often think if I possessed Aladdin’s lamp I would wear it out wishing that I could transport you and West here.  Merritt would like that, too.  He said he would like a month’s session of pow-wow with West… Merritt is a jolly fellow.  You should have been here this afternoon when he brought me – well, I haven’t enough room. Another time.

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2


If you would like to read more about the adventures of Mac, Gene, West, Merritt and Wade-Gery, the forward of the first volume of the Athenian Tribute List has some more details on their journey to publish the ATLS.

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

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.
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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

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

Getting the Ball Rolling: Who Started This All, Anyway?

The first in our series of graduate student profiles concentrates on PhD student Chelsea Gardner, one of the founders of the project.


One of the best things about From Stone to Screen, in our humble opinion, is that it’s a project started by, propelled forward and maintained by graduate students.  Anyone who has ever met a grad student knows that we tend to be overworked, overtired and overstressed students who are overenthusiastic about one thing in particular, which is what we happen to be researching.  So the fact that we are voluntarily taking on extra work for a project is something that, while not exactly understandable, proves how much we all believe in it and how much we are willing to put into it.  To that end, we at From Stone to Screen have decided to showcase one student a month to demonstrate how much we are all pulling for the project to succeed and what we have done to bring it there.

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Chelsea Gardner showing off her squeeze making skills

This month’s student profile is on Chelsea Gardner, a fourth year PhD student in Classical Archaeology at UBC.  As our story goes (which you can find elsewhere in our various blogs), in the fall of 2012 there were a group of students in one of Dr. Lisa Cooper’s Near Eastern archaeology seminars – Chelsea was one of them.  Unlike most of the students involved in the project, though, Chelsea had an awareness not only of the Fuller artifact collection but also of the squeeze collection.  The day that Dr. Cooper brought the artifacts to class, Chelsea approached her immediately after the class was done to discuss the possibility of work with the artifacts in some capacity.  This coupled with Dr. McElduff’s seminar, Digital Antiquity, inspired several of the CNRS grad students to become involved in the project and pushed it in the direction of digital humanities.  As a group, Chelsea and the other students wrote proposals to the department in spring of 2013 and with that propulsion the project began to gain traction.

One of Chelsea’s goals from the beginning was to make it an open-access resource for anyone in the field, whether they studied at UBC or not.  “The beauty of any digitization project is that it makes it… as available as you make it.  The vision right from the start was to make this an open-access, universally accessible source for anybody who was interested in it.”  With that in mind, funding was a priority for the fledgling project.  They needed to get enough to be able to have a platform that was accessible to all.  What Chelsea and the others planned, though, and what actually happened were quite different.   She is both proud and impressed with the support both within and outside of not only the CNERS department, but UBC as well.  “I never would have imagined how successful it has become with the digitizing techniques and the grant funding we have gotten.”  Especially since it was worked on primarily by graduate students, the progress is even more impressive.

It was always a conscious decision to make it for grad students only.  There was the possibility of faculty advisement, but Chelsea wanted a graduate student project in order to make it solely student-run.  She wanted it to be valuable for each individual student who is involved as a means of professional development, something that can sometimes be difficult for multiple students to have the chance for.  “That was the impetus behind this entire project, was creating an opportunity for graduate students that didn’t exist before.”  From Stone to Screen has definitely delivered on that front; along with presenting for the local Vancouver branch of the AIA, our students have been able to present at the EAGLE conference in Paris, learn digitization methods that our field usually does not teach and create connections with other professions interested in Digital Humanities.

A hiccup in her plans for From Stone to Screen arrived, though, in the form of an amazing opportunity.  Chelsea learned that she was the Philip Lockhart Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for the 2013-2014 academic year.  This was, needless to say, an opportunity she was unwilling to pass up but it also meant that she had to leave everything in Vancouver behind for a year.  It was hard for her to leave the project when it was only just getting on its feet, and she knew that bIMG_4411y going to Athens she would have to leave the project in the hands of others and watch it from afar. “It was very personally rewarding to watch this project develop that I’ve seen since its inception and just kind of explode.”  She still worked with Lisa Tweten over e-mail, giving advice and links when she came across them, but it was still a risk to leave it behind for a year. Watching it flourish from afar was something that she thoroughly enjoyed.

Now she is back in Vancouver, though, and enthusiastically finding new opportunities for the project to expand.  When I asked her if she thought the project would be able to grow past its current collections, her excitement was contagious.  She hopes that as From Stone to Screen grows and gains a larger public presence, private collectors would step forward and allow us access to their collections to incorporate into our database.  There is, obviously, the problem of trying to obtain private artifacts for our own collection that were collected before 1970.  The other problem is that many museums in Greece rarely allow scholars to make squeezes because it can cause some damage, plus many of the inscriptions have already had multiple squeezes made so it is unlikely that we will be able to enlarge our collection.  Chelsea hopes, though, that we can somehow borrow other collections, digitize it safely and then add it into our online collection to hopefully have the entire Athenian Tribute List on our database.

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Chelsea making a squeeze

Squeezes are still being made on site, though, and she hopes that we can gain some of those for our collection.  She recently made a squeeze at the site that she excavates at and once she has finished her research and work with it, she fully intends to donate it to the From Stone to Screen collection.  “I hope that is something that’s on everyone’s radar who is an archaeologist in this department who are going on projects and have the ability to do so,” she admitted.

As an archaeologist, though, it may seem confusing as to why she is so involved with a project to digitize epigraphic squeezes.  She works in the ancient historic period in Greece which means that there are epigraphic sources from the time period in the region where she digs – the value of the project for Chelsea is that is have given her the opportunity to handle squeezes first hand which is indispensable since she needs to make squeezes for her own research.  The squeeze that she made was also digitized using the same methods that we use at the project which gives her high quality images to work with.

Chelsea has two years left for her PChelsea GardnerhD, meaning that she can continue to closely work on the project and help see it through to the end of our current goals, but as we have seen in the last year it is already growing so much bigger than we had ever planned.  As with anyone in our field, though, she will go to wherever the jobs are when she’s finished and that most likely means leaving UBC.  This also means, though, that she will have to leave From Stone to Screen behind and give it off to the next generation, something that Chelsea regrets and wishes she could see it through to its completion. “The goal of Stone to Screen,” she admitted,” is for it not to ever be completed.”  She plans to follow it from wherever she is in the future and send whatever squeezes or support she can.  She vehemently believes that it is a resource that can grow indefinitely and she will be there to support it from afar.  Considering how much the project has grown, which just two years ago was just a random idea after a seminar, what will happen in the next two years before she graduates is impossible to tell.  You can see the pride whenever she speaks about the project, though, and I think it’s safe to say that wherever she ends up she will always support and help the current generation of students who are working on it.


Check out Chelsea’s blog posts!

Squeeze Making in the Athenian Agora

The Athens Epigraphical Museum: Where it all began…

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Filed under Archaeology, Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, Epigraphy, Project Planning, Squeeze Collection

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.

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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.

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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

 

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