About the Virtual Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction Project

Cuneiform script is one of mankind’s earliest systems of writing. Wedge-shaped impressions were made with a reed stylus on clay “tablets”. The creation of writing was an intellectual breakthrough that made recording information possible - it was the original portable information technology.

Cuneiform script was in use for some three thousand years in and around the region of modern day Iraq and Syria. Emerging from a simple system of pictograms some five thousand years ago, the script evolved into a sophisticated writing system for communication in several languages.

Thousands of inscribed cuneiform tablet fragments have been unearthed in the last 200 years; the largest collections are housed in the British Museum in London, the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, the Louvre in Paris, and the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin. Excavated cuneiform tablets are typically fragmented and their reconstruction poses a puzzle of enormous complexity. The puzzle’s “pieces” are distributed within and between museum collections worldwide to which there is necessarily limited access, and the pieces are complex 3D forms that belong to an unknown number of complete or incomplete tablets. The loss and damage of cultural artefacts in the Middle East and elsewhere has motivated preservation efforts and the emergence of new digital archiving initiatives.

The Virtual Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction Project was inspired by the ambition to support virtual access to cuneiform artefacts and to reconstruct cuneiform tablets by joining virtual fragments together. The project aims to support and resource exceptionally low-cost and very easy-to-use 3D acquisition systems, advance automated virtual reconstruction algorithms, and evolve a collaborative reconstruction environment.