Roll up your sleeves! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to help archeologists to decipher the texts of ancient papyri from Oxyrhynchus, even if you have no training or if you can’t read any Greek.
You may have heard of Oxyrhynchus for the first time when I commented on Peter Parson’s book, City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish, Greek Papyri Beneath the Egyptian Sand Reveal a Long-Lost World. Oxyrhynchus has made the headlines at the end of the 19th century when Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt from Queen's College, Oxford, discovered a dumpsite outside today’s el-Bahnasa in Egypt where hundreds of thousands of papyri were uncovered. The precious finds have been blotted inside newspapers and piled up in metal boxes, still stored in the vault of Oxford. Only a few percent of this colossal amount of papyri has been translated so far. Any help is more than welcome for after translation, the texts still need to be matched to other existing texts or pieces of literature that is known but hasn’t come down to us.
As it turns out, Chris Lintott, project manager of the Imaging Papyri Project working together with papyrologists from Oxford University and the Egypt Exploration Society, have scanned these papyri and put them on a newly created website called Ancient Lives. Each visitor of this website will receive a picture of a papyrus fragment. His task will be to click a letter on the papyrus followed by a click on the corresponding letter shown on the keyboard below. The purpose is to make each fragment just a little more “readable”. Later on, the experts will collect these bits and pieces and try to make sense of the texts.
So, if you are in for a challenge and some excitement go to Ancient Lives and contribute to history by deciphering your own piece of papyrus! Don’t worry, you are not alone for only two days after starting the project, volunteers had decoded and transcribed more than 100,000 characters already. Have fun doing something useful!