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2. Ur III Cuneiform Tablet, USCARC 6728, c. 2100-2000 B.C.E.

The Ur III period in what is today southern Iraq saw the last great flowering of Sumerian rule, language and literature. Sumerian is an ancient language unrelated to any other known language, and seems to have been the first language to be written down. Thousands of economic and administrative clay tablets have been found in the Sumerian language and cuneiform script. These tablets also include seal impressions made with cylinder seals, small inscribed cylinders that were rolled across a tablet to verify a transaction, much in the same way we use a credit card today. The top image shows the tablet in normal light. The bottom image demonstrates the use of Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) technology with specular enhancement. Specular enhancement, which uses algorithms to make a surface more “reflective,” is especially helpful in making seal impressions easier to see.  This use of PTM imagery represents an ongoing collaboration between Hewlett Packard Labs, which developed the imaging technique, and USC’s West Semitic Research Project.

Photograph by Kenneth Zuckerman and Marilyn Lundberg, West Semitic Research. Courtesy University of Southern California Archaeological Research Collection.


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