© The Authors.
Published by BCS Learning and Development Ltd.
Proceedings of British HCI 2017 Conference, Sunderland UK
A Virtual 3D Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction
Manchester Metropolitan University
Sandra I. Woolley
University of Nottingham Ningbo
Birmingham City University
Institut für Archaeologische
University of Birmingham
University of Birmingham
The interaction authors are collaborators of The Virtual Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction (VCTR)
Project - an international collaboration inspired by the ambition to support virtual access to
cuneiform artefacts and to reconstruct cuneiform tablets by joining virtual fragments together. The
project aims to support and resource low-cost and easy-to-use 3D acquisition systems, advance
automated virtual reconstruction algorithms, evolve a collaborative reconstruction environment and
facilitate interactive on-line 3D archiving. The author disciplines include Computer Science,
Electronic Engineering and Assyriology.
This paper describes an Interaction that
accompanies the 2017 BCS HCI Conference paper
“A Collaborative Reconstruction Environment” by
the same authors.
The interaction provides users with an opportunity to
manipulate and join 3D models of two cuneiform
Cuneiform script originated in Mesopotamia 5,000
years ago and evolved into a sophisticated writing
system that remained in use for 3,000 years. Clay
tablets inscribed with the cuneiform script were the
original portable information technology.
The 3D models in the interaction are of
photogrammetrically acquired fragments from the
ancient city of Ur, currently held on study loan at The
British Museum. Many thousands of fragmented
tablets have been excavated in modern times and
their reconstruction poses a puzzle of enormous
complexity, not least because access to the
fragments is necessarily limited and because pieces
that join together are distributed within and between
Users will experience the difficulties faced when
attempting to identify joining surfaces of 3D
fragments, as well as the challenges implicit in
virtual reconstruction via a simple web-based
interface with point-and-click interaction with a
mouse or touchscreen.
The interaction’s minimal web-based user interface
renders the two virtual fragments and provides tools
to ‘Rotate’, ‘Translate’, ‘Rotate-camera-view’, ‘Undo’
and ‘Auto-solve’. These actions are selected using
icon buttons on the side of the display. ‘Rotate’ and
‘Translate’ allow the manipulation of a single
fragment. ‘Rotate-camera-view’ allows the viewpoint
of the pair of fragments to be altered so the
goodness of a join can be assessed from all angles.
‘Undo’ cancels the last action. ‘Auto-solve’
automatically animates the translation and rotation
of the fragments to their correct joining positions and
In addition to the conference installation in the
Interactions Gallery, the same interface can be
accessed on PCs and mobile devices via the URL:
A Virtual 3D Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction Interaction
Tim Collins ● Sandra Woolley ● Eugene Ch’ng ● Luis Hernandez-Munoz ● Erlend Gehlken ● David Nash ● Andrew Lewis ● Laurence Hanes
2. EXAMPLE SCREENSHOTS
Figure 1: The Virtual 3D Cuneiform Tablet Reconstruction Interaction. (i) Opening screenshot, (ii) incomplete solution
requiring fragment rotation, (iii) incomplete solution requiring fragment translation, (iv) joined fragments after AUTO SOLVE.
Figure 2: Interaction tools.
The concept behind the interaction relates to the
ambition to virtually reconstruct the large numbers of
fragmented cuneiform tablets – a task that could not
be physically achieved. The accompanying paper
describes reconstruction experiments in which
participants worked physically and virtually to
reconstruct whole tablets. The experimental results
were used to design a new virtual reconstruction
interface and establish a benchmark for assessing
the effectiveness of future tools. The interactive
installation was designed to give users a hands-on
feel for the nature of the problem and the challenges
of virtual cuneiform tablet reconstruction.
The cuneiform tablet fragments presented are held
on study loan at the British Museum. The authors
wish to thank the Trustees of the British Museum for
permission to access the fragments and Dr
Jonathan Taylor whose assistance made this work