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Do the work Indiana Jones couldn't be bothered with
September 23, 2012 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Between 1922 and 1934 archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum embarked on a large scale excavation of the Mesopotamian city of Ur, one of the world's earliest cities. That excavation generated a huge mass of documents (lettres, field notes, dig report etc.) and now you can help to digitally transcribe them.
posted by MartinWisse (18 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
why hello there perfect starting premise for a Lovecraftian horror story don;t mind if I do.
posted by The Whelk at 1:59 PM on September 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Those are some poor-quality scans. Or maybe there was just some trouble with format conversion - as the monochrome noise at the top of each image indicates.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:05 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the licensing on this? I'm happy to give my time, but I want to know that I'm helping to make something free, not locked behind a paywall or "researcher-only" archive.
posted by Jehan at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was the ur-city.
posted by imperium at 2:16 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The about page states that the project is organized by the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum so presumably this will be public access in their archives.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:25 PM on September 23, 2012


Those are some poor-quality scans.

Indeed. In a lot of ways.

For one thing, many of the papers appear not to have been flat on the platen. Big blurry sections. This is why scanners have lids, people!

For another, if that graph paper was blue-on-white, they could have filtered it right out.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:29 PM on September 23, 2012


They sure could have done a better job divulging what it's all about. The motivation is fairly obvious from this page at U Penn Museum. The page Remembering the human element has some insight into doing archeology 100 years ago. There's even more in a search on the Ur Digitization Project.

It'd be great if something along the lines of the Gobekli Tepe page were part of the result.
posted by Twang at 2:40 PM on September 23, 2012


They are a bit cagey, aren't they? It's a shame because this is a really neat project. I couldn't find any contact information so I tweeted the Penn Museum for more info.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:54 PM on September 23, 2012


I guess at the end of the day it's good that the work is getting done, but every time I see one of these "crowd-sourced" transcription projects, I can't help but think, "That's one more opportunity for a paid graduate student project down the drain." This isn't groundbreaking stuff that requires an advanced degree by any means, but before crowd-sourcing was a thing, this material could have meant a summer grant of a couple thousand bucks for a student who really needed it.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:06 PM on September 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is an interesting approach, I wonder how they will keep track of quality control, etc. - Maybe this is a case where they need a wiki format for an interface, rather than the basic database browse.

Also, I'm assuming that transcription will go better with some technical knowledge of archaeological practices (see the Guidelines), and also of Mesopotamia, especially for transcribing handwritten technical terms, and also just identifying what you are looking at.

Anyway it's an interesting idea, this stuff would otherwise be in archival boxes, so I would like to see how this pans out ...
posted by carter at 9:42 PM on September 23, 2012


Those are some poor-quality scans.

But remember, those scans have been buried for 4000 years, and the old stone scanners and their Baghdad Batteries were never that reliable.
posted by univac at 8:43 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it really true that these crowdsourcing things are taking money out of the hands of grad students? I was thinking about this a couple days ago. The amount of data that needs to be processed is so unbelievably vast; is it not possible that the same grad students will be employed, but they'll be collating the crowdsourced data and using their own knowledge and skills to further refine the consensus? I know of so many projects (my parents are both scientists) that just grind to a halt because nobody has the budget to sort through the uncountable reams of data.
posted by KathrynT at 8:50 AM on September 24, 2012


Is it really true that these crowdsourcing things are taking money out of the hands of grad students? I was thinking about this a couple days ago. The amount of data that needs to be processed is so unbelievably vast; is it not possible that the same grad students will be employed, but they'll be collating the crowdsourced data and using their own knowledge and skills to further refine the consensus? I know of so many projects (my parents are both scientists) that just grind to a halt because nobody has the budget to sort through the uncountable reams of data.

I think there is a big difference between the sciences (where funding is generally more accessible) and the humanities here. I'm speaking as a humanities graduate student who's worked on a few projects like this, but only for money or class credit. My fear is that, as these crowd-sourced transcription projects become more mainstream, it'll only feed into the idea that humanities grunt work like this is not "real" work and anyone who does it does not deserve financial compensation (because it's "fun" [note: it's actually not]). I have no difficulty seeing a future where the kind of lower-level projects that have been available to me and my colleagues -- the kind of thing that can pay the rent for a month or two while you prepare for comps -- are no longer a feasible option for already rare funding, because university administrations will say, "Oh, well, why not just crowd source this for free?"
posted by oinopaponton at 10:27 AM on September 24, 2012


yeah, that's a good point. The other end of that equation is that in the sciences, data can often be automatically generated (as in the deep-space pictures that Galaxy Zoo uses, or the sea bottom pictures in Sea Floor Explorer), so it's much easier to have it roll in. As far as I know, there are no semi-autonomous robots hucking up Dead Sea Scrolls at the rate of 16 per hour.
posted by KathrynT at 10:45 AM on September 24, 2012


Update from the Penn Museum. Apparently it will be open to the public.
posted by orrnyereg at 4:25 PM on September 24, 2012


How to not roll out crowd-sourcing:
1. Get a pretty good amount of publicity for something that is of marginal interest to most people, asking them to work for free.
2. Design the system so that the only way people can help is for them to sign up and then wait for an email with a login.
3. Never send the login.

Did anyone else do this? Did you get any response at all, other than the auto-respond saying they'll get back to you later?
posted by Houstonian at 5:42 AM on September 25, 2012


Yes, I signed up, got the auto-respond Sunday evening then an account created email the following afternoon. Oddly, when I went back on to the site there seems to be no way to log on, it just lets me go straight to Transcribe Items without entering my details.
posted by paduasoy at 11:12 AM on September 25, 2012


Having said that, I need to log on to Scripto at the next stage and can't get password to work. Grrh.

Lots of the documents are typewritten, so I'm also wondering why they didn't scan them to text then crowd-source amendments.
posted by paduasoy at 11:56 AM on September 25, 2012


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