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Non-destructive image-based manuscript analysis system

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Image analysis for ancient documents

An EU-funded international initiative has developed a technique to profile the ink used in historical Mediterranean documents. The method does not require physical sampling and will ensure the preservation of valuable, ancient manuscripts.

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Historians often face inconsistencies during dating or authenticating old manuscripts. One way to successfully address this problem is to obtain accurate information on the physico-chemical nature of the document such as the type of ink used. The aim of the 'Non-destructive image-based manuscript analysis system' (Noesis) project was to develop analytical methods to compare text in historical manuscripts. The Noesis researchers studied works from five important Mediterranean collections of manuscripts from libraries in Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Using varying illumination conditions, the scientists modelled the appearance of the ink and the texture of the substrate in selected documents. Similarities between the samples were estimated according to the distribution of clusters based on descriptors and their proportions. Additional information can be added to the computations for a more comprehensive and accurate analysis. Prime examples include information on the writer of the documents, the so-called scrivener, together with age of the documents and origin. As well as aiding authentication and providing an accurate date of production, the non-destructive system enables isolation, discrimination and analysis of faded or overlapping writing. Overlapping script occurs in palimpsests where a very old document is overwritten. The Noesis technique is therefore applicable to ancient manuscripts which commonly bear this feature. The system can be found on the Internet with a database incorporating data invaluable to future researchers. With an eye to future expansion and development, the system was being tested for its suitability for use with watercolours.

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