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Bruce Zuckerman

Bruce Zuckerman

In Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR)’s November/December 2011 issue, Biblical scholar and digital imaging expert Bruce Zuckerman introduces readers to RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging), a revolutionary imaging technology that is changing the way scholars read and interpret ancient texts.

In “New Eyeballs on Ancient Texts,” Zuckerman explains why RTI images, created by merging a series of pictures taken with multiple light sources at different angles and distances around an object, are much more powerful than standard digital photographs. When viewed on a computer, RTI images of ancient texts can be virtually manipulated to reveal subtle details invisible to the naked eye, such as the thickness of a letter inked on a Dead Sea Scroll or the impressed signs of an ancient and worn cuneiform tablet.

But, as Zuckerman writes, “it’s hard to explain what an RTI image looks like in mere words,” which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you better understand RTI and experience these impressive images for yourself.

New Eyeballs on Ancient Texts

RTI images can help reveal hidden details in ancient texts, such as this 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablet (top). In an RTI image (bottom), almost all of the tablet’s wedge-shaped characters can be clearly discerned.

First, download the InscriptiFact standalone RTI image viewer developed by the West Semitic Research Project (WSRP).*

Next, download some RTI images to your computer. The WSRP has made these three RTI image files available especially for BAR readers. The first image (Coin_10534_Obv) is a first-century C.E. Jewish coin dated to the third year of the First Jewish Revolt; the second image (DSS_SOC1Q34BISDobv) is a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll containing an ancient Jewish prayer of atonement; and the third image (USCARC_6711_OBV) is a 4,000-year-old administrative tablet written in early cuneiform.

To download and save an image to your computer, click on the file name and, when directed, save the file to an easily accessible location on your hard drive, such as the desktop. The RTI files will be downloaded to your computer as compressed .zip files, so it may take a few minutes to complete each image download. You should then “unzip” the files once they are downloaded to your computer.

Now you can start viewing the images. Open the InscriptiFact viewer and click “Open” in the viewer’s menu bar. Navigate to the location where you saved the downloaded RTI image onto your computer’s hard drive and then click the Open button. The RTI image will then appear in a window within the viewer. At this point, you can begin experimenting with a variety of tools (especially those found under “Options” and “Effects” in the menu bar) that allow you to virtually manipulate the artifact image.

If you want to learn more about RTI and its uses, you can also watch the informative YouTube video below that details how art conservators with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are using RTI to better understand and conserve centuries-old paintings within their collections.

* In order to access and use the viewer, your computer must also be equipped with Java. If you don’t have Java on your PC, instructions and links for downloading can be found at

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