Rare audio of indigenous languages saved a century later

(National Science Foundation video by Science Nation)

Today is International Indigenous Peoples Day — a day to honor the estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries, who have struggled throughout history to retain their distinct cultures and ways of life in the dominant societies in which they live.

UC Berkeley researchers, however, have begun to preserve rare audio of indigenous California languages thanks to a new, non-invasive technology — bringing us a step closer to understanding the area’s oldest cultures.

Berkeley researchers are using optical scan technology to transfer recordings from thousands of decaying wax cylinders, preserving audio of 78 indigenous California languages, most of which were recorded more than a century ago. Many of the recordings contain the only audio in the world of several of the languages, and others hold unknown stories and songs.

The collection will be made available to indigenous communities, as well as to scholars and the public.

Learn more on the National Science Foundation’s Science Nation magazine.