Now a new computer program has fortunately decoded a written ancient language last used in Biblical times into a known language. The success could contribute "resurrecting" ancient texts that are no longer understood.
This program has been developed by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the program automatically translates written Ugaritic, which consists of dots and wedge-shaped stylus marks on clay tablets. The script was last used around 1200 B.C. in western Syria.
A sample of Ugaritic script on a gift-shop replica.
To evaluate the efficiency of their programme, the researchers gave reference of the Hebrew language, which is similar to Ugaritic.Through repeated analysis, the program linked letters and words to map nearly all Ugaritic symbols to their Hebrew equivalents in a matter of hours.
According to the scientists, the programme looks for commonly used symbols in the two languages and gradually refines its mapping of the alphabet until it can go no further.The system is then able to make assumptions about the way different words are formed and whether they consist of a prefix and a suffix, for example.
The Ugaritic alphabet has 30 letters, and the system correctly mapped 29 of them to their Hebrew counterparts.Of the words that the two languages shared the programme was able to correctly identify 60 per cent of them.
The programme also assumes that the computer knows where one word begins and another ends, something, which is not always the case.
Barzilay thinks the decoding program can overcome this hurdle by scanning multiple languages at once and taking contextual information into account improvements that could uncover unexpected similarities or links to known languages.