The Stanford
Cuneiform Tablet
Visualization Project

A photograph of a small cuneiform tablet. The text unwrapped from the scanned 3D model and rendered with a combination of curvature and accessibility shading.

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.


Recent paper in this area:

Unwrapping and Visualizing Cuneiform Tablets
Sean Eron Anderson and Marc Levoy
IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications,
Vol. 22, No. 6, November/December, 2002, pp. 82-88.


Many thanks to ancient writing enthusiast Renee Kovacs for providing us with genuine cuneiform tablets to scan, information on them, and for suggesting the project.

If images on this page look dark to you, see our note about gamma correction.

A list of technical papers, with abstracts and pointers to additional information, is also available. Or you can return to the research projects page or our home page.

Copyright © 2002 Sean Anderson and Marc Levoy
Last update: February 19, 2006 11:48:12 PM