Digital Hammurabi is a major, cross-discipline effort
originating at the Johns Hopkins University
aimed at scanning, visualizing, and publishing very high resolution, three dimensional models of cuneiform tablets and at producing an international standard computer encoding for cuneiform text.
We will enable scholars to select tablets from cuneiform digital archives for use on their local computers where they can manipulate them at will, linking 3D cuneiform images to encoded cuneiform text. Scholars will be able to pan, tilt, rotate, magnify, and re-light these virtual tablets. [See provisional research results on our iClay
web page.] They can produce "unwrapped" two dimensional projections of 3D tablets for print. They can generate accurate 3D plastic models of tablets. They can apply sophisticated and powerful text and corpora processing software toward concordance generation, morphological analysis, proximity and contextual searching, and automatic generation of critical apparatuses. Automated 3D character recognition will become a reality.
The Digital Hammurabi Project was awarded a $1,628,346, three-year grant
by the U.S. National Science Foundation
- a great start toward achieving our goals.
Specifically, we are working to:
1) produce a portable, non-contact, user-friendly, very high resolution 3D surface scanner that can scan all facets of an average cuneiform tablet in a few minutes while implementing resolutions down to 25 micrometers (i.e., 40 lines per millimeter, or 1000 dpi - about 4 times sharper than currently available scanners). [Although there will always be a need to personally inspect tablets for the more difficult readings, we expect high quality 3D renderings of cuneiform tablets will be adequate for tablet autopsy in approximatley 95% of the cases scholars encounter.]
2) develop new computer algorthims to stitch gigabytes of raw data together into coherent, virtual tablets for real-time, multi-resolution rendering, self-shading, and manipulation by researchers over fast Internet2 connections using software of our own design
3) coordinate a formal proposal to the Unicode Consortium
for a standard Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform computer encoding (continuing ICE, the Initiative for Cuneiform Encoding
) The encoding proposal includes characters from Sumerian, Akkadian, Eblaite, Hittite, Elamite, and Hurrian, but not Old Persian or Ugaritic.
4) establish mirrored petabyte-scale digital archives for virtual 3D cuneiform tablets targeted for rapid, real-time Internet2 dissemination
5) collaborate in the development of new international standards for 3D data aimed at data longevity and data integrity
6) collaborate in the development of new international standards for cuneiform text markup (XML metadata), aimed at feature comprehensiveness, data longevity, and data integrity
7) invent a completely new technology - automated 3D character recognition of cuneiform writing.
Though the full realization of these goals will take several years, our thrust during the three years of the initial NSF grant is to develop a working high resolution scanner, computer algorithms for multi-resolution rendering of 3D tablets, and the beginnings of a digital archive infrastructure.
We are applying the very latest computer technologies to these oldest of written documents in the hopes of making them more widely available to scholars and more accessible to better tools for philological research. We fully expect the new hardware and software technologies we develop to revolutionize cuneiform studies, not only by enabling plain text cuneiform transmission and analysis and by providing for 3D access to the world's tablet collections, but also by limiting physical contact with these valuable and unique ancient artifacts, while at the same time preserving Mesopotamia's cultural heritage through redundant archival copies of the originals, thereby ensuring their preservation into the future.
The 3D portion of the project is producing advances in hardware and software technologies, that are generating doctoral dissertations, research papers, and international workshops. The technological fallout is expected to enrich other disciplines beyond cuneiform research.
The encoding portion of the project has seen the active involvement of a broad spectrum of cuneiform scholars (specialists in the various languages, genres, and areas), Unicode experts, font architects, and software engineers and our proposal has been unanimously approved by the Unicode Technical Committee and the ISO 10646 Working Group 2.