Video Game Tech Gives Archaeologists a New Tool

Every have difficulty making out details from eroded or worn artifacts? 3-D imagery technology from video games now allows archaeologists to see better.

The lighting method was originally developed by Tom Malzbender, a computer scientist at HP’s laboratory in Palo Alto, California, to generate better 3-D imagery for computer games. In its most basic form, the process involves capturing between 30 and 50 digital photos of an object of interest. The pictures are taken from directly above the object in a darkened room. Though the camera is fixed, the object is lit from a different angle in every shot. The photos are then combined on a computer to create an image that can have a “virtual” light shone from various angles to reveal any hidden surface detail. The wavelength of this virtual light can also be changed using the computer, allowing colour-sensitive details of the artefact’s surface to be brought out more clearly.

…The technique has also been used to increase the number of readable characters on the Antikythera mechanism—a badly corroded geared device that spent more than 2,000 years at the bottom of the sea—from 800 to more than 2,000. It has also enhanced cuneiform inscriptions—markings made in clay tablets dating back as far as 3000BC that are the earliest known form of writing. Many video games, from “Tomb Raider” onwards, borrow from archaeology. It is nice to see video-game technology returning the favour.

The story is here with a specially-imaged photo of the Antikythera mechanism. Notice the image detail and its lack of dark shadows.

How many objects have been sitting in museums for 50 or 90 years, loaded with information we haven’t been able to obtain until now?

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About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
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