The Stanford Cuneiform Tablet Visualization Project

Thousands of historically revealing cuneiform clay tablets, which were inscribed in Mesopotamia millenia ago, still exist today. Visualizing cuneiform writing is important when deciphering what is written on the tablets. It is also important when reproducing the tablets in papers and books. Unfortunately, scholars have found photographs to be an inadequate visualization tool, for two reasons. First, the text wraps around the sides of some tablets, so a single viewpoint is insufficient. Second, a raking light will illuminate some textual features, but will leave others shadowed or invisible because they are either obscured by features on the tablet or are nearly aligned with the lighting direction. We have investigated solutions to these problems. We've first created a high-resolution 3D computer model from laser range data, then unwrapped and flattened the inscriptions on the model to a plane, allowing us to represent them as a scalar displacement map, and finally, we rendered this map non-photorealistically using accessibility and curvature coloring. The output of this semi-automatic process enables all of a tablet's text to be perceived in a single concise image. Our technique can also be applied to other types of inscribed surfaces, including bas-reliefs.

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