Explore The Fabricius Workbench

Learn how to use this exciting new program for helping in the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs

By Macquarie University

Bree Kelly, Dr Brian Ballsun-Stanton, Dr Alexandra Woods

Dr Alexandra Woods: How does the workbench help?

Lost to Time

When studying ancient cultures, researchers often come across wall inscriptions that are so damaged they cannot make out the text as a whole.

Dr Alexandra Woods: AI in the workbench helps historians and students

However, we can translate smaller sections with the help of tools in, and AI assistance from, the Fabricius Workbench.

Biography of Saroy by Boyo OckingaMacquarie University

Step 1. Create a Project

Welcome to the Fabricius Workbench for ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. To start, you can import a project or create your own. Select an image from your computer and give your project a title - and don’t forget to record your name as the author.

Step 2. Create a Facsimile

You can now create a facsimile. Use the pan tool to move the image into place then zoom in as much as needed. Using the marquee tool, draw a rectangle around the hieroglyphs you wish to translate.

Activate the threshold tool and adjust the slider until you find the desired level. Try the invert option to see if it makes a difference. Once you've found the level you are happy with, you can move onto the Generate step.

Step 3. Generate

In the Generate tab, you can adjust the level of opacity of each layer so that you can compare your facsimile to the original image. This helps create a more accurate drawing of the hieroglyphs.

Activate the Draw/Erase panel and select the draw tool in order to fill in gaps in the facsimile. Use the erase tool to remove unwanted marks.

You can also use the outline tool to create your final product. Remember: the drawing does not have to be 100% perfect! Once you are happy with your facsimile, you are ready to analyse the hieroglyphs.

Step 4. Analyse Your Hieroglyphs

You can now start selecting hieroglyphs. Using the marquee tool, select the hieroglyphs that make up the first word. You will see 'sentence' and 'word' appear in the sequence panel on the right-hand side.

Add more words to the sentence using the marquee tool. If the hieroglyphs have not been connected properly, however, the program will identify two or more separate hieroglyphs. This is why it is important to repair the hieroglyphs in the drawing phase. Not to worry, we can go back and fix it!

The program now recognises the hieroglyph as one sign. Using the marquee or polygon tool, select the word heading and then the next hieroglyph in the word. Repeat these steps for the rest of the text.

We can now classify the hieroglyphs and begin a translation. The program offers an auto-classify function. Let’s give it a try! Often, the machine learning model gets it right on the first go. Sometimes you need to select the second or third prediction from the suggestions to the right, or manually select the correct glyph yourself.

Step 5. Translate Your Hieroglyphs

Once all of the hieroglyphs have been assigned, bring up the Translation panel on the bottom of the screen. Clicking the auto-translate button will bring up a number of suggested groupings and meanings, provided by a dictionary service to which the program is connected.

In this example, the first word translates as sA and the second word is rA. However, we need to look at the other hieroglyphs before trying to translate these. The suggested transliteration for the two reeds is jj, but they can also be transliterated as y. So far, we have sA, rA, and y.

The next hieroglyph is called a determinative, and only appears after the name of a deceased noble. Therefore, the previous syllables make up a noble man’s name. The last two words are also a common epithet, mAa-xrw, meaning ‘true of voice’. So the text we have here is: Sa-ra-y, true of voice.

Dr Alexandra Woods: Benefits of the Fabricius Workbench

sA-rA-y, or Saroy, is the name of the tomb's owner.

Biography of Saroy by Boyo OckingaMacquarie University

Credits: Story

Bree Kelly
Dr Brian Ballsun-Stanton

Specials Thanks to:
Dr Alexandra Woods
Dr Boyo Ockinga

Gardiner, Sir Alan H. Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927, pp.447, 499, 541.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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