cuneiform tablets on the internet

The Java program is not being displayed because your browser does not support Java 1.4.2. The Java program is not being displayed because your browser does not support Java 1.4.2.
iClay is a cross-platform, Java applet [1] for the interactive viewing of 2D+ images of cuneiform tablets over the Internet. 2D+ images combine standard two-dimensional red, green, and blue color data with selected geometric data derived from full three-dimensional models, thus allowing for image manipulation capabilities lying somewhere between 2D and 3D.

Click and drag on the tablet images themselves to change the lighting angle; click on the small icon in the lower right of the tablet, or right-click on the tablet, to display a popup menu with controls for changing the brightness, specularity [2], accessibility shading [3], and depth shading [4] of the 3D surface of the tablet.

The 2D+ images shown here were derived from 3D surface scans of Johns Hopkins University cuneiform micro-tablet number t24 [5], which was scanned by the Digital Hammurabi team at the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University and by the Visual Information Technology group of the National Research Council of Canada. [6] (See the photograph to the right to get some idea of the actual size of this tiny tablet.)

Capitalizing on progress in Digital Hammurabi's research and development of high-resolution 3D surface scanning technologies, we have created both 2D+ and 3D viewers for cuneiform tablets. 2D+ technology, however, represents a particularly innovative and attractive concept for the publication of cuneiform tablets on the web. [7]


[1] Due to the technically demanding nature of the visualization techniques employed, iClay requires a computer operating system and web browser that support at least version 1.4.2 of the Sun Java plugin. We have tested and found that iClay works on Mac OS X Panther 10.3.5 with Safari version 1.2.3 and OmniWeb version 5.1, and on Windows XP with both Internet Explorer version 6.0.2 and Firefox version 1.0, after installing Sun Java 1.4.2). The 700 kilobytes of data used by the iClay Java applets will take some time to download, even on fast Internet connections. In addition, a computer running in at least the gigahertz range with 256 mb of memory is required in order to experience any kind of acceptable interactive performance. iClay was programmed in Java on Mac OS X by Dean Snyder, integrating 3D algorithmic code contributed by Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Dr. Subodh Kumar, Budirijanto Purnomo, Yuan Chen, and John Graettinger.

[2] Specularity is basically a technical term for shininess.

[3] Accessibility shading computes the maximum radius of a sphere that can fit in each depression, thereby approximating how much light reaches inside it; the narrower the area, the darker it is rendered.

[4] Depth shading computes the local depth of each point from a statistically constructed surface in its neighborhood and uses that to modify the amount of light reaching that point for shading; it assumes that on average deeper recesses receive less light.

[5] Johns Hopkins tablet t24 was collated by Dr. David I. Owen as No. 173 in Neo-Sumerian Texts From American Collections, Materiali per il Vocabulario Neosumerico, XV. The translation and comments here were provided by Dr. Jerrold Cooper.

This tiny tablet records rations of beer, bread, garlic, oil and soap supplied to eight imperial messengers at a way station in the province of Umma in the empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur. (The month name suggests that the tablet is from ancient Umma.) These small texts recording daily outlays are known to scholars as "messenger texts." Every month, the daily records were totalled and the records were deposited in the provincial archives. This particular text dates to the seventh day of the third month, but the exact year is not given (certainly in the latter half of the empire's existence, i.e. ca. 2000 BC).

The Third Dynasty of Ur controlled most of present-day Iraq and parts of western Iran from about 2100-2000 BC. Ur, known from the Old Testament as "Ur of the Chaldees," is a major archeological site in southern Iraq. The site of Umma, northeast of Ur, has been the scene of intensive looting over the last ten years.

[6] Digital Hammurabi scanning was done by Dr. Donald Duncan and Daniel Hahn of APL; Visual Information Technology scanning was done my Marc Rioux et al. of NRC.

[7] We realize that the actual images shown in this release are not all that useful for tablet autopsy; as a proof-of-concept demonstration this version is constrained by the limitations of current technology. As the relevant browser, network, and computer technologies improve over the next several months we will be publishing larger and more detailed images, but these examples do serve their intended purpose as harbingers of things to come.
The Java program is not being displayed because your browser does not support Java 1.4.2.
2D+ high-resolution closeup of a dingir sign on the obverse of JHU micro-tablet t24
Photograph of reverse of JHU micro-tablet t24, giving some indication of its actual size