Irish and Scottish academics are using digital and 3D technologies to protect ancient Celtic Ogham writings.
The 1,500-year-old alphabet appears on monuments and objects dating back to the fourth century, as well as manuscripts from the ninth century, and can be found in Ireland and Britain.
While just 16% of surviving Ogham carved stone pillars are housed in museums, the vast majority are to be found in local churches, heritage centres and rural locations which leave them exposed to the elements.
Academics from Maynooth University and the University of Glasgow intend to create an online database of the 640 examples of Ogham script, pre-dating 1850.
The project is being funded by the joint Irish Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the Digital Humanities scheme.
Researchers will also collaborate with the National Museums of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, the British Museum, Manx National Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland, Wales’s Cadw, as well as Ireland’s National Monuments Service, and the National Library of Scotland – all of whom have examples of Ogham in their care.
They will also work with Ireland’s Discovery Programme to create 3D digital models to enhance access to, understanding of, and engagement with, this unique cultural heritage.
The 3D models produced by the project will also provide a baseline against which future weathering can be assessed, contributing to the protection of a unique archaeological resource threatened by climate change.
David Stifter, professor of Old Irish at Maynooth University, said he hopes that the research will give us a better understanding of the writing system.
"The collaboration of a diverse and international team of epigraphers, archaeologists, linguists and philologists allows us to ask research questions that will contribute to a holistic picture of the history of the Ogham script," he said.
"We hope to get a better understanding of its meaning as a cultural expression of Gaelic intellectual history way beyond the narrow group of Irish “orthodox inscriptions”."
Katherine Forsyth, professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Glasgow said she hopes that the project will help give Ogham the "attention it deserves".
“Everyone’s heard of runes, but not so many people are familiar with Ogham, a highly unusual and amazingly clever writing system unique to these islands," she said.
The popularity of Ogham has been growing in recent years, particularly in artist communities, as well as for jewellery and even tattoos.
Team members hope the projects will inspire new creative and artistic works, including a collaboration between Professor Forsyth and tattoo artists to produce an Ogham Tattoo Handbook for Bradan Press’s popular "Think before you ink" series.