A PAIR of German computer experts are hoping to decode part of South Shields's history by setting their sights on a mysterious Roman altar.
Bjorn Brecht and Bruno Kessler, who are both studying for their masters in geo-computer programming at the University of Applied Science in Mainz, Germany, were invited to Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum in South Shields to help make sense of a now-invisible inscription on a third century AD column.
Using state-of-the-art, high resolution digital camera techniques at the Baring Street site, they scanned the altar over a three-day period using especially designed software.
Now back in Germany, the pair are hopeful they'll be able to use this data to reveal exactly what was written.
Mr Brecht said: "It's been a very short trip, but we have enjoyed it. Though we are scientists and not archaeologists, we were happy to get involved.
"We are hoping we will be able to see the words that are now invisible.
"The work we have done here will help us design a computer programme which can be used especially for this kind of thing."
The altar, which was rescued from the River Tyne sometime around 1672 by Martin Lister, a Fellow of the Royal Society, was always thought to commemorate the safe return of the Emperors Caracalla and Geta to Rome after leaving Britain in AD 211.
However, this could all change once the pair's results are in.
Alex Croom, Keeper of Archaeology at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, said: "It has been a wonderful opportunity to get them over here and to use their exper-tise.
"Although this altar has been studied since the seventeenth century, it still has its secrets. We hope this exciting use of modern technology will reveal the secrets hidden in the inscription and allow us to learn more about the altar's history and origins."
The results of the scan will be revealed in an exhibition, Secret Altars, which will be on display at Arbeia from May to August next year. Admission is free.