Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Computer-aided reconstruction of clay tablets

17.02.2015

It is a kind of revolution for the Ancient Near Eastern Studies. High-resolution 3D scans of ancient clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions and newly developed computer technology expand the research horizon. Scientists from Würzburg, Dortmund and Mainz are pushing on the unique project.

In the three millennia before Christ, a high culture existed in the Near East which left a wealth of information about itself: on clay tablets written in cuneiform script. Cuneiform characters were imprinted on a wet clay tablet with a stylus and subsequently dried to create a long-term durable document.


Clay tablet with cuneiform writing: 3D scan of a deed of gift for land bearing the seal of King Muwattalli I (15th century BC). The fragment is approx. 10 centimetres long.

Image: 3D-Joins


The characteristics of the cuneiform writing are analysed using multiple parameters.

Image: 3D-Joins

More than 500,000 such tablets have been discovered to date. They provide intriguing insight into the world of the ancient Near East. The inscriptions portray the making of drugs to treat diseases, the course of wars, religious rituals or bureaucratic acts. An excellently preserved royal deed of gift for land, for example, gives detailed account of who was involved in the donation and which persons were present as witnesses.

Even though ancient Near East researchers can read cuneiform script, deciphering whole texts is a tedious or even impossible task. This is due to the fact that the ancient clay tablets are often fragmented into small pieces and scattered over museums worldwide. "On principle, we are facing thousands of jigsaw puzzles that have been mixed up and have to be sorted and assembled before we can read them," says Gerfrid Müller, Professor at the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies of the University of Würzburg.

Putting together pieces of an ancient jigsaw puzzle using high-tech

Reconstruction of ancient clay tablets as a jigsaw puzzle: This task will be much easier and more reliable to perform in the future – thanks to a research project that has been running quite successfully for two years. Researchers of ancient cultures and computer scientists have developed methods that allow clay tablet fragments and the cuneiform writing on them to be analysed with great precision. The "3D-Joins und Schriftmetrologie" project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

"Our achievements so far are revolutionary and unique in the world," says project manager Gerfrid Müller. First, the researchers scan the clay tablet fragments using high-resolution 3D scanners. Computer scientists then take the data to develop new methods to exactly determine the characteristics of the tablets and the writing. In the last step, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are put together with the help of computers to create reconstructed 3D models of clay tablets which are the basis for the scientists' text work.

Focus on the writing styles of individual writers

One focus of the project is on the analysis of writing styles. How is that possible? After all, handwriting in the modern sense did not exist in the Ancient East. But the ancient writers already had their very own style when working the soft clay with their styluses. One writer would pull the stylus out of the clay in a swift motion to create a kind of "twist", while another pressed the letters into the clay with a characteristic spacing.

Such characteristics of the different writers can be exactly analysed using the high-resolution 3D models. And this method will ultimately enable the ancient Near East researchers to assemble the clay tablet jigsaw based on writing characteristics. "We already found out that one tablet reconstruction believed to be correct can't be right," Müller says. The previous approach to solving the puzzle, consisting of plaster casts, photos and text copies was just no accurate enough. The new method now enables assembling the clay tablets more conveniently and quickly.

Focus on clay tablets from Hattusa

For the project the researchers initially focused on cuneiform inscriptions from the ancient city of Hattusa in East Anatolia. Since 2001, these texts have been listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage; the research centre "Hethitische Forschungen" (Hittite Research) of Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz (Academy of Sciences and Literature) is in charge of the reconstruction.

Among the 30,000 text fragments from Hattusa 6,000 to 9,000 fragments are particularly interesting for the scientists. They describe festive rituals with frequently recurring cult instructions, which means that all pieces of the puzzle look quite similar. This is why these tablets are extremely difficult to reconstruct using ordinary means. The new technique should make this relatively simple.

Scans from Ankara, Berlin and Istanbul

So far Müller and his co-worker Michele Cammarosano have scanned 1,800 tablet fragments found at the Hattusa site. For this purpose, Dr. Cammarosano worked in museums in Ankara, Berlin and Istanbul, among others. He is continuing his scanning activities, and also the computer scientists involved are working on new algorithms. One of their goals is to use the curvature of the tablet fragments for the assignment in the jigsaw puzzle.

Cuneiform database for research

According to Gerfrid Müller, the medium-term project goal is a cuneiform database which is to be made publicly available via the internet and accessible for other research teams. This could be the case in 2016 presumably. The database will allow the ancient Near East researchers to work even more efficiently on learning about the ancient Near East from the cuneiform texts.

For a brief demonstration of the 3D models of the cuneiform tablets and how they can be manipulated on the screen, go to the project homepage: http://www.cuneiform.de/en/interaktives-portal/downloads.html

Project partners from Dortmund, Mainz and Würzburg

This project is a collaboration of the Würzburg Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies (project manager Gerfrid Müller and Michele Cammarosano) with the research centre "Hethitische Forschungen" (Hittite Research) of Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur Mainz (Academy of Sciences and Literature) (Gernot Wilhelm) as well as the Department of Graphics Systems (Informatik VII) of the Technical University of Dortmund (Denis Fisseler and Frank Weichert).

Contact

Prof. Dr. Gerfrid Müller, Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of Würzburg, Phone +49 931 31-82591, gerfrid.mueller@uni-wuerzburg.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.altorientalistik.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/start_page/ To the homepage of the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of Würzburg

Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht GPM sees deadly tornadic storms moving through US Southeast
01.12.2016 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Cyclic change within magma reservoirs significantly affects the explosivity of volcanic eruptions
30.11.2016 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>