Recently I wrote a review on Cuno’s new book Who Owns Antiquity. In that review I expressed my disappointment at the few solutions Cuno proposed. The next day, I returned to the subject with a post discussing the Virtual Vault at the Arizona State Museum. In this post I would like to point you to another possible solution – one being used to help preserve Iraqi antiquities.
This comes from the Discovery Channel:
A technology normally used in reconstructive surgery to create prosthetic limbs is now being applied to create reproductions of Iraq’s precious and fragile cuneiform clay tablets, according to an Italian team of researchers.
Called “Duplication and Rebirth,” the project consist of an electronic catalogue with bibliographical references, photographs, and when possible, 3D images of the tablets. These three-dimensional models can then produce exact replicas of the original relics.
“So far, we have recorded almost 20,000 artifacts scattered throughout the world,” Negri said.
While scholars estimate that roughly five million of the tablets are still buried in the mounds of Iraq, some 500,000 are kept in museum and private collections worldwide.
To obtain 3D images and subsequent perfect replicas of the tablets, the researchers used sophisticated laser scanners and a technology called rapid prototyping.
After a laser ray scans the surface of the tablet to obtain the necessary data to build a 3D image, a software builds the three-dimensional model.
“This data is the key to rapid prototyping, but can be also used to recreate virtual copies of the clay blocks, which can be viewed on a computer or over the Internet. Our goal is to build a 3D virtual museum accessible to scholars everywhere,” ENEA engineer Sergio Petronilli, told Discovery News.
The last part of the process involves rapid prototyping. Using the previously built 3D model, the technology builds up layers of thermoplastic material and creates a perfect replica of the original. Unlike using silicon or latex casts, the process does not damage the fragile clay surface.
Assuming the files and data are then spread via open access, this would allow scholars around the world to study the material without vitriolic discussions about ownership and without the need to transport delicate artifacts.
For another example of how people are attempting to preserve and disseminate knowledge about cuneiform You can also check out the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative.