Image Source: BBC.
BBC reports that the world's oldest known written language, Proto-Elamite, will soon be deciphered by Oxford University academics. University researchers are using a special machine to photograph the writing from all angles. In order to speed up the process, they are also opening up the project to public input, in the hope that crowdsourcing may shed more light on translations:
You can see the main project site here, which includes many images of the tablets with samples of this language. The site describes the language as follows:The clay tablets were put inside this machine, the Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of 76 separate photographic lights and computer processing to capture every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets.
It allows a virtual image to be turned around, as though being held up to the light at every possible angle.
These images will be publicly available online, with the aim of using a kind of academic crowdsourcing.
... [Oxford professor Jacob Dahl] says it's misleading to think that codebreaking is about some lonely genius suddenly understanding the meaning of a word. What works more often is patient teamwork and the sharing of theories. Putting the images online should accelerate this process.
Proto-Elamite is the last un-deciphered writing system from the Ancient Near East with a substantial number of sources (more than 1600 published texts). It was used for a relatively short period around 3000 BC across what is today Iran. Proto-Elamite is a derived writing system originating from the Uruk invention of writing in southern Mesopotamia during the middle of the 4th millennium BC. Scribes in Susa in southwestern Iran took over a majority of the numerical signs as well as many of the numerical systems from the older proto-cuneiform system.