The technology of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) can change the way you read ancient inscriptions. Developed by HP Labs and utilized by USC with its collection of 40,000 inscriptions, RTI enables the viewer to see the ancient inscription—from Ugaritic texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls—with lighting from all different angles.
Bruce Zuckerman, professor of Hebrew Bible and director of the West Semitic Research Project, has penned a column in this month’s issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (available online in its entirety) explaining the technology and its availability online through InscriptiFact. Registration is free. Zuckerman explains how the technology works.
It involves taking a series of successive images all around an object with the light for each picture situated at a different angle and height but always from about the same distance. This can be done in a light dome or by moving a single light around an object and taking a series of pictures, thus building a virtual light dome. A software program then takes the data from these pictures (a typical set is 32) and builds from them a master image, called a texture-map, which can be displayed on a computer.
You can see the technology in action in this three-minute video. You might want to skip the first 50 seconds to jump right to the display of RTI. It’s fantastic.