Thursday, June 22, 2017

Looking at potsherds in archaeological digs

EPIGRAPHY AND ARCHAEOLOGY: Discovery of hidden text prompts new approach to biblical digs in Israel (Adam Abrams/
The recent discovery of a previously invisible inscription on the back of an ancient pottery shard, that was on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum for over 50 years, has prompted Tel Aviv University researchers to consider what other hidden inscriptions may have been discarded during archaeological digs, before the availability of high-tech imaging.
This as a result of the story about the newly-recovered text on Arad Ostracon 16 which I noted here and here. Here's what they're thinking of doing about it:
As a result of the new discovery, researchers will approach how they handle pottery shards found during archaeological digs differently.

“Maybe they should just image everything,” [Tel Aviv University applied mathematician Arie] Shaus said. “Using low-cost equipment like the camera used in this discovery would allow each excavation to buy or construct one… or at least create a filtering system whereby only samples of pottery, which could have been used for writing, are saved and scanned. Maybe we have lost more inscriptions than we have found, but didn’t figure it out until now. It’s tragic, but we are also optimistic, because now we have the technology to do this.”
Bring it on!

A more primitive method for identifying inscribed ostraca is to dip each one in water. That is sometimes supposed to make otherwise unnoticeable writing stand out. When I worked at excavations in Israel in the 1980s as a lowly staff member, I dipped approximately a zillion potsherds. I never found any writing. This new technology sounds more promising.

Cross-file under Technology Watch.

UPDATE: Title and link now added. Sorry about that!

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