Dr Erlend Gehlken

Erland Gehlken 200x314

Dr Erlend Gehlken

Sandra Woolley 200x200

Dr Sandra Woolley

3D Acquisition and Virtual 3D Publication of Cuneiform Artefacts


Dr Erland Gehlken from the Institute of Archaeological Sciences (Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften) at Goethe University Frankfurt will undertake his fellowship over a number of visits to Keele from April 2019 – April 2020.

During his visit he will be hosted by the Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences and his academic partner Dr Sandra Woolley from the School of Computing and Mathematics. They will be working on their joint project; 3D Acquisition and Virtual 3D Publication of Cuneiform Artefacts.

Cuneiform script is one of mankind’s earliest systems of writing, in use for some 3,000 years in and around Mesopotamia (the region of modern day Iraq and Syria). The script was written on clay “tablets” by making wedge-shaped impressions with a reed stylus. Many thousands of inscribed tablets have been excavated in the last 200 years, but these are usually fragmented with the pieces spread between museum collections far and wide; a complex worldwide 3D jigsaw puzzle! Recent developments in 3D computational geometry have made it possible to create accurate models of physical objects from sets of photographs. Wherever the fragments are located physically, such work enables them to be brought together and the tablets to be virtually reconstructed.

The research artefacts are fragile pieces of millennia-old clay, densely inscribed with cuneiform script. These written clay records are still largely untranscribed and their translation remains the substance of scholarly research and debate. The project brings together Dr Gehlken’s assyriological expertise with Dr Woolley’s knowledge work in the computational and technological challenges associated with acquiring, manipulating, sharing and reconstructing 3D models of these artefacts.

The fellowship builds on prior international collaboration via The Virtual Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction (VCTR) Project www.virtualcuneiform.org and will continue to support the on-going collaborative research and sharing of knowledge between the VCTR project partners. The fellowship will focus on developing an extended dataset of experimental 3D cuneiform artefact models and a new on-line interactive 3D interface. Dr Gehlken and Dr Woolley will use demonstrations and publications of the advances in 3D methods and virtual reconstructions to support the development of a collaborative AHRC grant application.

Longer term plans for the collaboration include the 3D acquisition and virtual reconstruction of entire archives as well as enabling the creation of collaborative 3D virtual environments for curation, scholarly research, public engagement and citizen science. A further ambition is to demonstrate that these approaches have wide application for other archaeological artefacts, such as fossils and flints or, indeed, any modern-day objects of art or industry.
The partners are keen to engage widely with colleagues and share the project through a range of dissemination activities over the period of the fellowship.

If you would like to know more about the plans for Dr Gehlken’s fellowship and would like to meet him during his visit to Keele, please contact Jo Flynn.