Researchers at WMG, University of Warwick, used 3D scanning and visualisation technology to help Dr Irving Finkel, the world’s foremost expert on ancient Babylonian languages, decipher a 4000-year-old tablet that sheds new light on the iconic biblical tale of Noah's Ark.
‘The Real Noah’s Ark’, shown on Channel 4, Sunday 14th September, documented the astonishing story of this significant find and Dr Finkel’s incredible journey of discovery. The ancient clay tablet, discovered on a mantelpiece in a UK suburban home and handed to the British Museum, is inscribed with the world's oldest language, cuneiform. It tells the story of a Noah-like figure and a great flood, giving detailed instructions on how to build an ark. However, due to its incredible age and some understandable wear and tear, parts of the tablet are difficult to read.
Having spent 20 years translating the tablet Dr Finkel, Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian Scripts, Languages and Cultures at the British Museum, set out to show that the biblical narrative originated from stories that had been embedded in Sumerian and Babylonian society and literature for thousands of years. He also cast new light on the shape of the ark, believing that it was round; closer in style to ancient coracles than the traditional long seafaring boat of popular imagination. After all, it didn’t necessarily need to sail anywhere, it just needed to float until the floodwater retreated.
WMG’s Professor Mark Williams assisted Dr Finkel with his detailed interpretation of the tablet by scanning it using cutting edge X-ray Micro-CT and 3D Laser Scanning technology, and projecting the image onto the UK’s highest resolution 3D power wall. The immersive technology allowed Dr Finkel to view the tablet from all angles and in high definition, revealing previously undecipherable characters and confirming his suspicions that the vessel being described was indeed round.
Inspired by his find and now certain of his translation, Dr Finkel and a team of archaeological boat builders set out to build a real Noah's ark and discover if the ancient immense coracle-shaped boat could float. This iconic and universal legend is one of the most epic stories in human history, featuring in three of the world's greatest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This tablet and Dr Finkel's dedicated research and discoveries provide a fascinating new perspective on this pivotal religious story.
Professor Mark Williams said: “It was fantastic to apply our technology to such an exciting find. Usually we are working on something engineering-related, so to be able to take our expertise and transfer that to something totally different and so historically significant was a really interesting opportunity”.
The documentary is available to watch here for a limited time.
WMG’s Product Evaluation Technologies group undertakes advanced metrology and design validation research. Facilities include a twin column CNC coordinate measuring machine, a 3D laser scanner and industrial X-ray Micro-CT scanner, and a 4K resolution 3D visualisation suite developed by HoloVis International. This facility consists of the latest 10 MegaPixel digital projectors which combine to create the highest resolution 3D system in the UK. Utilising Autodesk Showcase software, the level of photorealism produced allows companies to make confident and effective design decisions early in the product development process. The facility also includes active head and hand tracking for real time interactive Virtual Reality. This is a cutting edge capability that is now available to companies based within the region.
18 September 2014
Lisa Barwick, WMG, University of Warwick Tel: 024 76 524721 or 07824 540845 L.Barwick@warwick.ac.uk
Peter Dunn, Director of Press and Policy
University of Warwick
Tel UK 024 76523708 office 07767 655860 mobile
Tel Overseas: +44 (0)24 76523708 office +44 (0)7767 655860 mobile/cell