- Title: 3D solution to Syrian cultural destruction
- Date: 3rd November 2016
- Summary: VARIOUS OF NGAN-TILLARD LOOKING AT DIGITAL FILES ON SCREEN
- Embargoed: 18th November 2016 13:01
- Keywords: 3D printing Syria Palmyra Islamic State Assyriology University of Leiden Delft University of Technology TU Delft
- Location: DELFT, NETHERLANDS / LONDON, ENGLAND, UK / PALMYRA, SYRIA
- City: DELFT, NETHERLANDS / LONDON, ENGLAND, UK / PALMYRA, SYRIA
- Country: Syria
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA00656W17IT
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Assyriologists world-wide have been left horrified by the Islamic State militant group's systematic destruction of antiquities and cultural relics in both Syria and Iraq.
But help is at hand, thanks to researchers from two Dutch universities who have found a thoroughly modern way of preserving this history.
The team from the University of Leiden and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) are using silicone moulds of ancient clay tablets from Raqqa in northern Syria, taken before the civil war began, and micro CT scanning them to 3D print life-sized plastic replicas.
The original tablets, an early writing medium dating back to 1200 BC, the time of the Middle-Assyrian empire, are thought to have been either destroyed by militants or stolen.
Without replicas, their future study could otherwise be lost to the academic world forever.
The light-activated epoxy resin is blue in colour, but other than that, the tablets look exactly the same as the originals, say the cross-disciplinary team behind the project.
Chief researcher, Leiden University archaeologist Dr. Olivier Nieuwenhuijse (Pron: Newan-Heiza), told Reuters: "If you can scan the tablets with the 3D micro CT scanner and you reproduce the object virtually, you can then print it to get an exact replica. The same size, same resolution. The only thing that differs is that the original clay tablet would not have been blue, it would have had an earth colour."
TU Delft assistant professor in human-centred digital fabrication, Dr. Jouke Verlinden (Pron: Yow-ka Ver-linden), built a custom-made multi-material printer.
"We came up with this particular printer behind me, which is a 'polyjetting' machine which basically solidifies epoxy kind of material, so it's a chemical process," he said. "It uses light, which you can see - this ultraviolet light - which solidifies very small droplets of this kind of material. And then layer by layer, in a very high resolution, it will stack these together so there's over 100 of these layers in every millimetre (10 microns)."
Verlinden and his team have printed substantial numbers of the artefacts for use by Assyriologists, like Dr. Mark Weedon, at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. He says Islamic State, or Daesh, have destroyed and stolen irreplaceable artefects from the Raqqa Museum.
"It would be a huge loss to human knowledge if these tablets were not to be recovered in some way. So if there is some way of preserving the information that was held on them through whatever silicon moulds have been made, if I understand correctly, that would be absolutely wonderful," Dr. Weeden said.
Academics can also download files of the scans, in order to either study them closely on-screen or print them themselves.
"You end up with a digital file that is the object," said Nieuwenhuijse. "You can share this object with colleagues on the other side of the world. You just send the whole object through email and someone else in the States or Canada or wherever, in Syria, can just send it off to his own printer, and print his own copy of the object."
Dominique Ngan-Tillard (Pron: Domma-neek Nuga-Ntier Tee-Ar), assistant professor in civil engineering and geosciences at TU Delft, is involved in storing the data and removing any imperfections, usually in the form of air bubbles in the moulds, that appear on the scans.
She told Reuters: "What we do is we store the original data, the raw data that people can reprocess if they wish. We also store videos where we explain what we have done and what is the value of the scans for archaeologists, so that different people can use our information."
Ngan-Tillard is close to completing the design of an algorithm that will automatically delete the bubbles.
In addition to the tablets, moulds of textile and basketry impressions preserved as imprints on pottery sherds, from the Late Neolithic period, ca. 6500 BC, have also been reproduced.
"These are important objects, clay tablets carrying texts and Assyrian language," said Nieuwenhuijse. "They're an important historical source of information - and although they have already been read, translated, photographed, and drawn in the field, the Assyriologists always like to have the real thing. Maybe the next generation of Assyriologist will not believe current interpretations and may want to go back to the objects."
The team says that the silicone moulds taken in the field will eventually disintegrate entirely and say scanning them while they remain in good condition is urgent.
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