Using a pattern recognition algorithm similar to that employed by police to identify and compare fingerprints, Israeli researchers have developed a computer program that deciphers unreadable ancient texts and could make a Google-like search engine for historical documents a reality. By identifying letter, word and handwriting style patterns, the program recreates portions of texts that faded over time or even those written over by later scribes.
"The more texts the program analyses, the smarter and more accurate it gets," said Itay Bar-Yosef, one of the researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Working with digital copies of the texts, the program assigns number values to each pixel of writing depending on how dark it is. It separates the writing from the background and then identifies individual lines, letters and words. It also analyses the handwriting and writing style which enables it to "fill in the blanks" of otherwise indiscernible smeared or faded characters. The team's advancements were published most recently in the academic journal Pattern Recognition.