An innovative archaeological project to study Mycenaean texts on clay.
An Italian project, connected with one of the Italian archaeological missions in Festòs (Crete, Greece), funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, deals with the conservation and digitization of epigraphic testimonies linked to Linear B writing, through which the Mycenaean Greek language is recorded.
The “Linear B pa-i-to Epigraphic Project” (PEP) is a project born in 2015 with the aim of digitizing, investigating and publishing a selected group of documents from Knossos connected by the mention of Festòs (pa-i-to, in Greek Mycenaean). The documents are drawn up in Linear B, the ancient form of logo-syllabic writing used to note Mycenaean Greek in Crete and mainland Greece in the Late Bronze Age (between the early fourteenth and late thirteenth centuries BC).
The group of analysed texts, all written on clay, come from Knossos, they all mention Phaistos (pa-i-to, in Mycenaean Greek) and represent the only written source we have for the Mycenaean period that mentions this very important place of Crete, which was excavated by Italians since 1900.
From 2015 to the present day, the project has then broadened its field of interest to include other documents on clay, looking also at Linear A (a form of Minoan writing still not deciphered) and cuneiform writing. Thus, in the last two years, digitalization, study and publication of both Linear A documents kept in the Museum of Civilisations in Rome and the cuneiform texts stored in the Barracco Museum in Rome have begun.
Digitalization techniques used: 3D acquisition and RTI
The digital acquisition techniques used deserve special mention:
- The first of these technologies, perhaps the best known, uses a 3D laser scanner, which acts by projecting a laser light onto the object and thus detects thousands of points together with their spatial coordinates, used to create the virtual model. This allows to carry out a series of analyses on the 3D model itself, with the considerable advantage of having available a mathematical vision of the tablet’s surface and the shape of the sign
- Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) is less known. It is a computational photographic technique that allows to produce a virtual 2D ½ model of the object’s surface. Through the RTI Builder software it will be possible to synthetize a sequence of about 50 photographs in a single interactive image. Photos are taken with a fixed camera, that can change the position of the light source projected on it according to a range of positions at each shot. The image resulting from this process can be visualised thanks to another programme, the RTI Viewer, which allows to reproduce and virtually move the light on the object, thus replicating the ways the light source strikes its surface. This technique proved to be particularly useful in the study of epigraphic documents, traced in clay.
Studying Mycenaean texts on clay through these technologies enables to have 3D/2D ½ models of the object directly on your computer. It also allows to physically reproduce an artefact thanks to a 3D printer. Furthermore it allows to visualise (and study) an inscribed text at very high resolution, with the possibility of analysing the traces of each individual sign, with an accuracy of the order of a tenth of a millimetre.
Finally, digital acquisition represents a form of protection for the object, since it can be viewed anytime from a remote location, avoiding any form of unnecessary manipulation; at the same time, with the online publication of the models, documentation will be available to the public, that is not often displayed in museums
In addition to the study and publication in scientific contributions of the important results obtained, one of the primary objectives is to publish all the documents in digital form on the new website of the project www.paitoproject.it, together with explanatory sheets provided with bibliographic references in order to make eventually usable for anyone a corpus of texts that constitute the only decoded written source available for the Greekness of the second millennium BC.
The project cooperates with the Italian Archaeological Campaign Mission at the Festòs site (Crete), led by Prof. Fausto Longo of the University of Salerno and co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.