Cuneiform, the oldest known writing system, was developed by the Mesopotamians over 3,000 years ago. It involved carving symbols into clay tablets and was widely used in the ancient Middle East for millennia. Archaeologists and computer scientists have joined forces now to develop an AI program capable of translating these ancient texts.
Translating Cuneiform texts poses significant challenges due to limited expertise and fragmented documents. The scarcity of individuals proficient in deciphering the ancient Sumerian and Akkadian languages adds to the complexity. Additionally, understanding the cultural context is crucial, and the absence of such a possibility becomes a barrier to translation.
AI as a Language Bridge
Led by experts Shai Gordin and Gai Gutherz, a multidisciplinary team has developed a convolutional neural network approach for translating ancient Akkadian using AI technology. The groundbreaking program offers two translation versions. One directly from Unicode representations of the characters and the other from transliterated cuneiform in the Latin alphabet. According to the team. The latter version has achieved slightly better results, given the complexity of the glyphs and their multiple interpretations.
Promising Results and Future Prospects
While the AI program is not flawless and performs better with shorter sentences, it has demonstrated high accuracy, particularly with formal texts such as royal decrees. Notably, the program also has replicated the style of each cuneiform text, allowing for the recognition of the main content elements. With these results, the researchers now envision a “human-machine collaboration” where the AI program serves as an initial translation tool, saving time for scholars who can refine and enhance the translations further. The ability to translate ancient cuneiform texts using AI technology streamlines the process and holds the potential for exciting discoveries. By bridging the language gap, AI facilitates the exploration of ancient civilizations and opens new avenues for understanding our human past and the ways of our ancient ancestors.
Although today, haggis is a strictly Scottish dish, its origins are as mysterious as the infamous Loch Ness Monster itself.
The Dubious Origin of Haggis
No one knows how or when haggis came into being. Some claim it was the Romans who first brought it over. Their version uses pork instead of sheep offal, and it supposedly began as a means of preserving the meat during hunts. Others believe that a similar version of a proto-haggis may have come from the Vikings between the eighth and 13th centuries. They think the root, hag, may derive from haggw (Old Norse) or hoggva (Old Icelandic), which both mean “to chop,” which refers to preparing the offal before stuffing it into the caul or stomach. Others speculate haggis actually came from the French, but none of these theories is conclusive.
How Haggis Became Scottish
Interestingly enough, the first people to label haggis as Scottish were not the Scots, but their neighbors, the English. There were two main reasons why they did that. The first one was related to the change of the English diet following the Agricultural Revolution at the end of the 17th century. The English were consuming a wide range of new products, which made the demand for offal scarce and present only for poorer people. The Scottish, on the other hand, were experiencing a period of severe economic decline where people could only afford to eat cheap food like haggis.
The second reason, unsurprisingly, was political. Despite the Act of Union (1707), the English still expressed their obvious contempt for most Scots, especially Highlanders. In an attempt to undermine them, the English who had long stopped eating haggis, labeled it as the uncivilized dish of the Scots.
A False Tradition
So how did haggis come to be Scotland’s staple dish? It all changed when George IV decided to make amends with Scotland during a grand visit in 1822. It’s then that Sir Walter Scott threw a banquet trying to show off traditional Scottishness (which he made up almost entirely). He served haggis, had everyone decked out in tartan, and did everything to impress the king. His mission was a success and resulted in a craze among the English for all things Scottish. The rest, as they say, is haggis history.