Seeing through clay: 4000 year old tablets in hypermodern scanner

Seeing through clay: 4000 year old tablets in hypermodern scanner


These are from around 2050 BC. For this reason,
I am curious what is inside. We are now standing outside of the
Dutch Institute for the Near East: NINO… with a box of a clay tablets. Some of which are about 4000 years old. Now we are going to the Delft University of Technology,
where they have a modern micro scanner… that will provide us with new ways
to study these ancient tablets. This is a very special tablet,
because it’s actually a tablet inside a tablet. A tablet with its envelope. Why would people, 4000 years ago,
put an envelope around a tablet? You can easily change a sign or a number
on a clay tablet by making it a little bit wet. But if you wrap an envelope around it,
then you protect the tablet inside against any fraud. This tablet could be about the sale of a house. If there’s a dispute about
the size of the house for example… the people could break the envelope,
to get to the master document inside. About a hundred years ago,
scholars would smash the envelope… but nowadays we are more careful
with our archaeological artifacts. This is why we are now in Delft… where they have a special scanner
that can actually see through the envelope. So we can read the tablet on the inside. With the micro-CT scanner
we can make a 3D reconstruction of the object. Not of only the outside of the object,
but also the inside. So we did the first scan
and maybe you want to have a look… So I switch this on and then you can already
distinguish in this cross section… the envelope from the tablet, very well. And we can recognize here some characters. It’s a measure of capacity.
Yeah. And here is probably the sign for barley.
-Yeah. An amount of barley that… I expect the text to say… was delivered by person ‘N’. For me as a researcher, I consider the envelope
and the tablet as one text. And I would want to know both texts. The first results are now in,
and they look very promising. We know that we can digitally separate
the tablet from the envelope. So we can actually read what is on the tablet inside
without breaking the envelope.

One thought on “Seeing through clay: 4000 year old tablets in hypermodern scanner

  1. Virtually unpacking these tablets are part of our latest tutorial: https://youtu.be/0jqP_6jyjyo

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