Learn more about how new technology is transforming our understanding of the past with this FREE BAS eBook Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land: The Future of the Past. This comprehensive guide explains and explores the new 21st-century toolkit—from site to lab to visualization—along with new insights in Biblical archaeology.
Hindering thorough study of the envelopes is the destructive nature of the investigation: Traditionally, the clay envelopes would have to be broken to examine the tokens inside. It is estimated that 80 of the 130 envelopes discovered from excavations in Iran, Syria and Iraq are still intact; to break them would mean destroying the seal impressions on the exterior of the envelopes. Thankfully, new technology is providing a non-destructive method of studying these objects without having to break the artifacts. The Oriental Institute researchers created 3D CT images of the envelopes as well as the tokens inside; 3D digital models were then produced from these images. The 3D models allow the tokens to be analyzed in relation to one another within the envelopes as well as in isolation. According to LiveScience, one envelope held tokens that were made of a low-density material, likely bitumen, an adhesive used to waterproof objects in antiquity. The digital models showed that the tokens had air bubbles around them, indicating that a cloth, which would have disintegrated over time, may have been wrapped around the tokens before they were sealed in the envelopes. Evidence also suggests a liquid, likely liquid bitumen, was poured over the tokens. The reason why bitumen was used in this envelope remains unknown, but Woods told LiveScience that the envelope may have represented a receipt for an exchange involving bitumen.
The research team at the Oriental Institute hopes these state-of-the-art techniques can help elucidate the relationship between the types of tokens, the seal impressions and the provenience of the clay envelopes as well as the nature of administrative practices and the development of writing in Mesopotamia.
BAS Library Members: Read more about the use of 21st-century technology in archaeology:
Bruce Zuckerman, “Archaeological Views: New Eyeballs on Ancient Texts,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2011.
Ann Killebrew, “Archaeological Views: Biblical Archaeology in the 21st Century,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2013.
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