How researchers achieved the first long-distance reconstruction of a cultural artefact


The epic of Atrahasis is one of the most significant pieces of ancient Babylonian literature. It describes a creation myth, a great flood and the building of an ark, that significantly pre-dates a similar account in the Bible. The epic has survived millennia on clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script. But the third tablet of one of the most complete surviving copies is broken.

The difficulties associated with its reconstruction are summarised by Irving Finkel, cuneiform curator at the The British Museum: “The crucial episode about the Ark and the Flood occurs in Ipiq-Aya’s Tablet III. This tablet is now in two pieces. The larger, known as C₁, might just possibly join [with] C₂ if they could ever be manoeuvred into the same room, but the former is in the British Museum and the latter in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. One day I will try out the join…”

This potential join has been hypothesized for over 50 years, but never physically confirmed. Now, using 3-D computational geometry, there is no longer a need to manoeuvre the physical fragments into the same room. Instead, we built 3-D virtual models of the fragments and demonstrated that they join precisely. This is the first time that a long-distance virtual reconstruction of a cuneiform text has been achieved. Read more.

March 3, 2018