This international research project is already casting light on a lost bronze age middle eastern society where enslaved workers lived on rations close to the starvation level.Why has deciphering this writing system has (thus far) been challenging?
"I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough," says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.
Dr Dahl's secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.
In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.
This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets. This is Indiana Jones with software.
Dr Dahl suspects he might have part of the answer. He's discovered that the original texts seem to contain many mistakes - and this makes it extremely tricky for anyone trying to find consistent patterns.From the headline "breakthrough in world's oldest undeciphered writing system", one would be led to believe that the news item is announcing a breakthrough but, in fact, it is only talking about a potential breakthrough.
This first case of educational underinvestment proved fatal for the writing system, which was corrupted and then completely disappeared after only a couple of hundred years. "It's an early example of a technology being lost," he says.
Update: Linked here is a paper by Graeme Earl, Kirk Martinez and Tom Malzbender that describes the technology that the article is referencing. Tom Malzbender is at HP Labs from right here in the Bay Area with multiple publications related to image processing including in SIGGRAPH and ACM Multimedia. This research work is what the article should be talking about but is not.