Thursday, August 20, 2015

Crowdsourcing Excavation Records from Ur

[First posted on AWOL 14 October 2012, updated 20 August 2015]

UrCrowdsource is asking for public assistance in transcribing thousands of documents related to the excavations of the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia. These excavations were conducted under the auspices of the Iraqi Department of Antiquities from 1922-1934 by the joint expedition of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

By participating in this project, you will be helping to gather data that will eventually be featured on an open-source, public, and free website with all known data from the ancient site of Ur. Anyone will be able to search the data, enjoy, and learn from it. We are particularly interested in having educators and students of all ages involved. Anyone can use the data for educational purposes under Creative Commons share alike license. This means that any data you acquire here must be made available to others free of charge with attribution to the Ur Project as the source of the data. If a commercial concern wishes to use data or images on this site, it will need permission from the museums, who are the official copyright holders.

Naturally, creating a comprehensive site of this magnitude takes time and money. We have completed our first year wherein we have assessed the amount of material to be made digital, and we have secured a two-year continuation with lead funding from the Leon Levy Foundation. A test site featuring data from archives and artifacts should appear in 2014 with a more refined version in 2015. Meanwhile, documents will continue to appear here for transcription and inclusion until all have been converted.

A variety of documents can be found on this site. They include typewritten reports, accounts, and letters from the field or between the museums, as well as handwritten notes taken at the site as artifacts were coming out of the ground and the remains of architecture were being assessed for the first time in thousands of years.

Optical Character Recognition can be used on the typewritten documents but not the handwritten ones and around half of the documents we have are handwritten. Furthermore, the typewritten ones are often on wrinkled paper with faded typeface, and are often annotated by hand. People are much better transcribers of all of this material and gain the added benefit of observing history in a unique way.

The field notes are particularly difficult to read because of the handwriting, the scan quality, the original quality of the notes, and the graph background on most of the cards themselves. We will eventally rescan at higher resolution, but it will take time. The scans we have now are readable, however, and no matter how good the scan, transcribers must accustom themselves to Woolley's handwriting and his use of abbreviations. Help with this process appears in the pages under "Terminology" on this crowdsrouce site.

Thanks to everyone taking part and we hope this explains some of the issues. Any questions or concerns can be addressed to the project manager, Dr. William B. Hafford: whafford(at)

UrCrowdsource is a part of the larger project entitled Ur of the Chaldees: A Virtual Vision of Woolley's Excavations, funded by the Leon Levy Foundation and conducted by the original excavating museums in Philadelphia and London.

No comments:

Post a Comment