27 Jul 2013

Citizen Science Recovering History!

Science is for more people than a few professors in white lab coats. These days, citizen science is an expanding field. Citizen science programs make opportunities for just about anyone who wants to get involved in some kinds of research -- people of any age, and anywhere in the world.

We've had posts on our Sci/Why blog before about citizen science. You can click here to read about young Kirill Dudko, and his discovery. But science isn't all about only physical sciences like geology or biology -- there are social sciences too, as well as the expanding field of digital humanities, where computers are used to help for research in the arts and language study.

There's a post on a blog called RadioLab, which you can read here at this link, which talks about a citizen science project in which people can help to copy the words from papyrus scrolls that are thousands of years old.

This photo of Egyptian workers at Oxyrhynchus appears on the website ancientlives.org

When Egyptologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt and their team of locally-hired diggers discovered the garbage dumps of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt in 1896, they found an astonishing amount of old paper records made from papyrus reed. There were marriage records, Greek poetry, fragments of the gospels and many older papyrus pieces. This discovery was the beginning of the science of papyrology: the study of ancient papyrus records.
700 boxes were brought to Oxford, holding a total of some 500,000 pieces of papyrus. Only a few of the boxes have been edited by scholars.

There is a computer program now, which shows images of many of these papyrus pages. Volunteer researchers can go to a website, view a page, and record any letters written in the Greek language. Volunteers don't need to read Greek, just match the shapes of the letters. Any work by volunteers is sent on to scholars for formal study. You can read about this exciting project at the Ancient Lives website.

Radiolab website has many interesting short articles and audio recordings about science. Check out their 18-minute podcast on The Greatest Hits of Garbage, including the papyrus found in the trash heap at Oryrhynchus, Egypt.