Behind the Scenes in Conservation: Cuneiform Tablet CT Scan

by Conservation

1/10/2019

behind the scenes , conservation , X-ray , cuneiform tablets

In December our objects conservator traveled to Baker Hughes GE Inspection Technologies to get an in-depth look at some of our cuneiform tablets. Cuneiform is an early form of writing developed by the ancient Sumerians.  It consists of wedge-shaped lines impressed into small clay tablets. Some of these hardened clay tablets contain hidden interior tablets that also contain writing; however, it is impossible to read the inside text without breaking the exterior tablet.  In the photo of the tablet above you can see that the top corner of the exterior tablet has broken off, revealing a small portion of an interior tablet.

We took the tablet to Baker Hughes GE’s Customer Solutions Center with the hope of revealing the interior inscription without damaging the exterior. Though the ancient clay tablet was a highly unusual item for them, the GE team was able to use computed tomography, more commonly known as CT-scanning, to reveal the never-before-seen writing on the interior tablet. With the cuneiform revealed, we will be able to translate the text and provide more information about the purpose of this specific tablet.

 

Image: Cuneiform Tablet and Envelope, circa 19th century BCE, clay, Gift of Bettie L. Kerr, 1988.266