Unwrapping and Visualizing Cuneiform Tablets


IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications
Vol. 22, No. 6, November/December, 2002, pp. 82-88.


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 present solutions to these problems by first creating a high-resolution 3D computer model from laser range data, then unwrapping and flattening the inscriptions on the model to a plane, allowing us to represent them as a scalar displacement map, and finally, rendering 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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