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New Delhi: The Archaeological Survey of India has set the wheels in motion to digitise its rich repository of estampages housed at its epigraphy wing in Mysore, a move that will augment access of such rare materials to historians and researchers.

On Saturday, the digitisation process was formally inaugurated by V Vidyavathi, Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, at Epigraphy Division office in Mysore, officials said.

“The digitised data will also be converted into compact microfilms and kept for eternity in the Arctic World Archive (AWA) as memory of humanity of the world,” the ASI said in a statement.

The ASI’s Epigraphy Division has been a repository of estampages (paper copies of inscriptions taken manually) drawn from all corners of India since 1887, it said.

These estampages are deciphered by trained epigraphists, and transcripts of the texts are prepared, officials said.

“Around one lakh such estampages and associated material is available at the division in different Indian languages, like Tamil, Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Telugu, Bengali, Kannada, Arabic, Persian, etc,” the statement said.

Though all the inscriptions copied in this manner have been published in the Annual Reports on Indian Epigraphy (ARIE) year-wise based on their year of finding, their digital copies were not available for the historians and researchers, the ASI said.

“Therefore, with a view to make this wealth of information available in a digital manner, the ASI has embarked upon the mammoth task of digitising all the estampages along with their transcripts,” it said.

ARIE data will serve as meta-data for easy search ability. The database will be put up on a public website for wider dissemination.

Around 40 epigraphists and archaeologists are part of the teams for verification of estampages. Five teams of 10 each are put in place for mending and pasting the estampages before scanning. Twenty data-entry operators are working to prepare meta-data, besides numerous other staff to support the exercise, officials said.

Major constraint in digitisation had been very long and irregular sizes and shapes of estampages, as they have been drawn corresponding to the inscribed epigraph, it said.

The technology used has to be non-invasive and stitching is not feasible. The digitisation technology followed, therefore, is customised and unique, especially developed by ASI and AWA (through their Piql India arm),” the statement said.

It involves scanning estampages, some of which are over 100-ft long, in a very high resolution with a customised, high speed non-invasive robotic scan-arm, it said.

There shall not be any stitching of files. The digital data, after scanning, will be hosted on cloud server, it said, adding that the digitised data will also be converted into compact microfilms and stored at AWA.

Established in 2017, the Arctic World Archive (AWA) holds an impressive collection of valuable digital artefacts and irreplaceable information from around the world, with over 15 contributing nations, according to its website.

AWA is set deep inside an arctic mountain on the Svalbard archipelago. Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago, is a declared demilitarised zone by 42 nations.

“Physical copies of digitised material will also be transferred to nano films and stored for thousands of years at the World Archive vault, with another set with the ASI,” the statement said.

Digitisation and archiving experts from various European nations, along with their Indian counterparts, are working on the project to ensure high-resolution digital images of the estampages, it said.

The ASI also shared images of the facility at its Epigraphy Division on its social media handles on Saturday.

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