Greek graffiti brought to light by technology

The “block of the Alcazar”, ancient cut stone of the VIand century BC, could have joined among other remains the confidential shelves of the archaeological deposit of the City of Marseilles. This was without counting the hundreds of graffiti engraved on its surface, opening up a veritable “archeology within archaeology” which could reveal precious elements of the history of our Marseille ancestors.

Discovered during the excavations of the Alcazar which took place between 1999 and 2000 in Marseille on the site of the current library, the eponymous block was located outside the ancient city, in its immediate surroundings, at a site which served as a clay quarry. At this place, we discovered a pit filled with several blocks. This set of stones could belong to the same monument of the VIand century that was destroyed “says Marc Bouiron, archaeologist at Inrap (National Institute for Archaeological Research) and former director of excavations. Among these blocks, one of them, nearly two meters long, aroused the interest of archaeologists as soon as it was extracted from the site. ” We noticed that it had a lot of superimposed graffiti. Among the figures that stand out, we find in particular two large rowing boats from Marseille, typical of the VIand century, used by the Marseille sailors who founded Marseille “, describes Marc Bouiron. ” There is also at least one character represented by a helmeted head, another which could be a second head or a griffin, as well as letters inscribed in Greek, the meaning of which is not yet known. », emphasizes the archaeologist.

Smart scanning

From this tangle of engravings difficult to read with the naked eye, it is difficult to decipher the extent and to appreciate with precision the smallest elements. Then came, on the initiative of the Marseille History Museum, the technological innovation developed by the start-up Marseillaise Mercurio, specialized in expert imaging. ” Our know-how is to digitize objects says Fabrice Martinez, General Manager of Mercurio. In the case of the Alcazar block, RTI technology was used, [Imagerie par transformation de reflectance, Ndlr], which allows you to vary the angle of the light all around the object, to reveal all its surface details “, he explains.

After the digitization of the block carried out thanks to a light dome device, the intelligent processing of the acquired data allowed a small revolution: to be able to reproduce on its screen the gesture of the archaeologist who tries to illuminate with the light of his flashlight the smallest detail of the object. A working tool which also allows the researcher to take notes directly on the image, to redraw what he sees adds Fabrice Martinez. A godsend in the case of the Alcazar boulder, ” the surface of which is covered with markings overlapping in all directions », in order to also develop a mediation tool to lead a virtual guided tour for the general public, accessible on the internet.

It now remains to carry out the investigation which will make it possible to interpret the meaning of these engravings. While graffiti was common in antiquity, ” these have the particularity of being very precise : the one who drew knows these boats well to be able to represent them as well remarks Marc Bouiron. Symbolic representation of a naval battle? Voluntary act whose origin is still poorly understood? The mobilization of a team of ten scientists should make it possible to see things more clearly, especially since several graffiti have been found on other blocks. In order to check ” if scenes continue from block to block », Marc Bouiron counts on the study of the hundred stones to restore the original monument and go further, we hope, in the interpretations “.

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