A numeration system encodes abstract numeric quantities as concrete strings of written characters. The numeration systems used by modern scripts tend to be precise and unambiguous, but this was not so for the ancient and partially-deciphered proto-Elamite (PE) script, where written numerals can have up to four distinct readings depending on the system that is used to read them. We consider the task of disambiguating between these readings in order to determine the values of the numeric quantities recorded in this corpus. We algorithmically extract a list of possible readings for each PE numeral notation, and contribute two disambiguation techniques based on structural properties of the original documents and classifiers learned with the bootstrapping algorithm. We also contribute a test set for evaluating disambiguation techniques, as well as a novel approach to cautious rule selection for bootstrapped classifiers. Our analysis confirms existing intuitions about this script and reveals previously-unknown correlations between tablet content and numeral magnitude. This work is crucial to understanding and deciphering PE, as the corpus is heavily accounting-focused and contains many more numeric tokens than tokens of text.
A crucial step in deciphering a text is to identify what set of characters were used to write it. This requires grouping character tokens according to visual and contextual features, which can be challenging for human analysts when the number of tokens or underlying types is large. Prior work has shown that this process can be automated by clustering dense representations of character images, in a task which we call “script clustering”. In this work, we present novel architectures which exploit varying degrees of contextual and visual information to learn representations for use in script clustering. We evaluate on a range of modern and ancient scripts, and find that our models produce representations which are more effective for script recovery than the current state-of-the-art, despite using just ~2% as many parameters. Our analysis fruitfully applies these models to assess hypotheses about the character inventory of the partially-deciphered proto-Elamite script.
This work describes the first thorough analysis of “header” signs in proto-Elamite, an undeciphered script from 3100-2900 BCE. Headers are a category of signs which have been provisionally identified through painstaking manual analysis of this script by domain experts. We use unsupervised neural and statistical sequence modeling techniques to provide new and independent evidence for the existence of headers, without supervision from domain experts. Having affirmed the existence of headers as a legitimate structural feature, we next arrive at a richer understanding of their possible meaning and purpose by (i) examining which features predict their presence; (ii) identifying correlations between these features and other document properties; and (iii) examining cases where these features predict the presence of a header in texts where domain experts do not expect one (or vice versa). We provide more concrete processes for labeling headers in this corpus and a clearer justification for existing intuitions about document structure in proto-Elamite.