Thursday, August 13, 2009

How the Greek gods measure up

What was Vicki Hertzberg, an expert in biostatistics and bioinformatics, doing on a remote Greek island this summer? She tells all:

"Well, this came about because my friend and colleague Bonna Wescoat approached me about a statistical question regarding the architecture of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Since the Sanctuary was the home of a secret cult, and the pain of revealing the secrets was death, we know very little about it. So how can we use the physical evidence to learn more about the Sanctuary, the cult, as well as classical and Hellenistic Greece?
"In general, Bonna wants to know if there are architectural characteristics about the buildings here that we can ascertain from the measurements of the remaining blocks from which we can make inferences. The particular questions are can we infer the quantum measurement (ie the unit of measurement of distance, such as our modern foot or meter) used in design and construction of these buildings and can we differentiate quanta between buildings (for instance the Hieron and the Dedication of Phillip II and Alexander IV) and/or between building styles (for instance, Ionic vs Doric). From this we might be able to learn more about the architect.

"Although both the Romans and the Egyptians had fairly standardized units of measurement, the Greeks did not."

See and read more about Hertzberg's adventures, and how computer science students are helping solve the mystery, on her blog "Going on a Quantum Hunt."

You may also want to check out Wescoat's blog, "Framing the Mysteries in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods."

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