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UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants (UCLAiC) undertake imaging projects on a range of heritage materials

Dr Kathryn EPiquette12 January 2018

Chiddingstone Castle ancient Egyptian coffin lid, probably 25th Dynasty.

Chiddingstone Castle ancient Egyptian coffin lid, probably 25th Dynasty.

It’s been about a year and a half since UCLDH announced the establishment of UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants (UCLAiC, with a core team of Melissa Terras, Adam Gibson and myself) and began offering Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Spectral Imaging services from the UCL Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite research facility based in central London. We have since been undertaking imaging projects on a range of fascinating heritage materials. From Roman lead tablets and Egyptian mummy portraits to Persian and Mediaeval manuscripts and modern works of art, the advanced techniques we use are helping to reveal hidden writing, underdrawings and other marks that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

As we wrap up work from 2017, we are pleased to report on one of the highlights from the past years’ projects, namely multispectral imaging on a 2500-year old Egyptian coffin lid held in the collections of Chiddingstone Castle in Kent, England.

This wooden lid, shaped to represent the human form, is covered with a thin layer of yellow gesso and the head and chest are embellished with red, blue and yellow paint. A column of hieroglyphic text runs down the centre of the lid, from the brightly coloured broad collar down to the feet. Intended to ensure the sustenance of the deceased in the afterlife, this offering formula is formed of hieroglyphic signs painted in black outline with a blue-green infill. The glyphs on the foot area, however, have become very faded and damaged over time yet this is the very location where the name of the owner of the coffin would have been written.

Lower part of the coffin lid showing preserved hieroglyphic text and largely ‘invisible’ name on foot panel.

Lower part of the coffin lid showing preserved hieroglyphic text and largely ‘invisible’ name on foot panel.

Keen to learn if the name could be recovered, Chiddingstone Castle commissioned me to conduct multispectral imaging on the damaged foot area. Our multispectral system (supplied by R. B. Toth Associates), uses a medium-format, 60-megapixel PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic camera to take a series of high-quality digital images. Illumination is provided by low heat, narrowband light emitting diodes (LED) at 12 different wavelengths from ultraviolet to near infrared, with the application of a 6-position motorised filter wheel (developed and integrated by Dr Bill Christens-Barry of Equipoise Imaging). Together with the assistance of SEAHA PhD student, Cerys Jones, the multispectral system was transported from the UCL Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite to the Castle in order to conduct the imaging onsite.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette calibrate the UCL multispectral system.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette calibrate the UCL multispectral system.

We applied 12 different wavelengths from ultraviolet to near infrared. Initial results were achieved using infrared (IR) illumination. These wavelengths, which are longer than visible light, are absorbed by carbon-based inks/paints and thus provided increased contrast between the outlines of the hieroglyphs and the surrounding surface. Thanks to the flexibility of our MSI system and Cerys’ familiarity with the specific optical properties of the pigment Egyptian blue, we tested further combinations of wavelengths and filtering. Visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL) proved vital for visualising the faint traces of paint surviving in the interior of the hieroglyphs, and we were thrilled to successfully recover the shapes of the majority of the hieroglyphs spelling out the deceased’s name.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette examine the multispectral imaging results.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette examine the multispectral imaging results.

With this image data in hand, I was able to research the name and, with the assistance of other Egyptologists, determine that the hieroglyphs most likely spell out “Irethoreru”. This name was relatively common  among males during the 1st millennium BCE and can be translated as “The Eye of Horus is against them”. The name was presumably intended to protect its bearer against his enemies, although without specifying whether these enemies were material or otherworldly. UCLAiC are pleased to have contributed to the re-discovery of the name of this ancient Egyptian who lived over 2000 years ago. This exciting work also recently appeared as part of a BBC report on UCL’s research on non-destructive technical imaging for recovering ancient hidden writing (see also: UCL News) and is also reported on the SEAHA blog.

Detail of foot panel under visible light (left), infrared (IR) illumination (middle) and visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL, right).

Detail of foot panel under visible light (left), infrared (IR) illumination (middle) and visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL, right).

While the mystery of the name has been solved, there is yet much to learn about the Chiddingstone Castle coffin lid. It was acquired by Denys Eyre Bower in the mid-20th century but unfortunately its original provenance is not known. The lid is probably part of an outer coffin that held an inner coffin which, in turn, held Irethoreru’s mummified body. One wonders whether elements of his burial equipment made their way into other UK/European museums and collections. Indeed, many Egyptian artefacts from the Third Intermediate Period and beyond (c.1000–c.300 BCE) bear the name “Irethoreru” (which may also be rendered as “Iret-hor-irou”, “Iret-horru”, “Iret-[en]-Hor-eru” or “Iretenhoreru”). Further detailed research, advanced imaging and materials analysis will be necessary to discover whether any of these funerary objects relate to Chiddingstone Castle’s Irethoreru. If you think you might have further information that could help Chiddingstone Castle learn more about their coffin lid please contact: curator@chiddingstonecastle.org.uk.

For further information about the imaging services and training courses offered by UCLDH Advanced Imaging Consultants, please visit the page or contact advancedimaging@ucl.ac.uk!

The E17 Art Trail

Oliver WDuke-Williams9 June 2017

Two UCLDH related events are picked out in local press coverage as highlights of the E17 Art Trail, 3 – 18 June 2017:

‘Painting with Light’ (9th June) is being delivered by Martin Zaltz Austwick and me, together with friends from CASA and Geography. In this workshop we will produce a series of images floating in space using an experimental device known as a PixelStick, while discussing the history of St Michaels Church and parish. The PixelStick produces images that are visible yet indecipherable to the naked eye, but are revealed when viewed through long-exposure photographs.

‘Invisible Numbers’ (10th June) is a collective of several artists; part of it is about a locally born (and UCL alumnus) computing pioneer, for which I’m doing a talk on early British computing.

Hangeul and hanja in domain names

Chris JDillon17 June 2015

King Sejong

King Sejong stands in the middle of Sejong St in front of the Sejong Cultural Center in Seoul. Obviously a key historical figure, then. He was behind the creation of the Korean “hangeul” script in the mid-15th Century. It was done scientifically, so that many consonants were pictures of where they are articulated and are systematically related to similar consonants. So ㄱ, g is related to ㅋ, k with the additional dash and to ㄲ, kk by duplication. ㄲ, incidentally, represents a tense k sound which may be unique to the Korean language. The vowels are a system of dots and dashes, and so ㅣ is i and ㅏ is a.

I was in Seoul for the ICANN Variant Issues Project meeting on the Chinese, Japanese and Korean Label Generation Rules (i.e. which characters should be allowed in Top Level labels). China made huge progress early on and Japan has caught up. Korea has not used Chinese characters, “hanja”, much for several decades but is keen to be able to use them for business reasons – .現代 “Hyundai” would be a lot more widely understood in East Asia than the hangeul way of writing it: .현대.

Just before the meeting I had decided to read through the proposed Japanese table and found various things I shan’t trouble you with – I learnt at an early age that linguists’ ideas of “interesting” don’t necessarily correspond with those of non-linguists’. Then I found something of rather greater interest: 卍 and the reverse form. Currently there is no mechanism to stop the use of the reverse form in a domain name. However, it has been referred for a policy decision. The solution may be that it is removed from the table, or an evaluation panel takes on this sort of role.

I’m back from Seoul keen to do a Korean project and have set up a Korean wiki with a colleague at SOAS: Korean Wiki

If you speak or are learning Korean and are based at UCL, I’d love to hear from you.

DH's Hidden Histories

Claire L HWarwick11 February 2011

We are delighted to report that Julianne Nyhan and Anne Welsh, of UCL Information Studies and UCLDH have been awarded funding from the University of Trier’s Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Forschungszentrum (HKFZ) for a project entitled ‘Digital Humanities as Wissensraum: uncovering hidden histories (c. 1949-1980)’.

The application of computing to the Humanities is not new and can be traced back to at least 1949, when Fr Roberto Busa began researching the creation of an index variorum of some 11 million words of medieval Latin in the works of St Thomas Aquinas and related authors. Notes and contributions towards a history of the computer in the humanities have appeared in recent years; however, our understanding of such developments remains incomplete and largely unwritten.

Anne and Julianne will gather and make available sources to enable the social, intellectual and cultural conditions that shaped the early take up of computing in the humanities to be investigated. The project will draw on an interdisciplinary method bundle from oral history, digital humanities and historical-cultural studies. With the aim of capturing memories, observations and insights that are rarely recorded in the scholarly literature of the field they intend to carry out interviews with ‘pioneer’ or ‘early adopter’ scholars and practitioners from c. 1949 until 1980 (that is, from main frame computing to the coming of the personal computer).

An international symposium in summer 2011 will address all aspects of the project’s methodology as well as bring together a small group of ‘early adopter’ scholars to discuss and record the early days of DH. This will be followed by online and print publications to support future research into the topic.

This should be a great initiative and we at UCLDH are very much looking forward to taking part in it. Watch this space for announcements of the project’s website, Advisory Board and the symposium.