Micro CT scanning and 3D printing replicas of 3000-year-old clay tablets destroyed in Syria by Islamic militants could help Assyriologists continue researching the troubled country's ancient history. Stuart McDill reports.
The destruction and looting of ancient sites in Syria - has horrified academics and scientists alike Now, far from the heat of the battle against Islamic State, a new front-line is emerging - in a 3D printing machine in the Netherlands Researchers from the University of Leiden and Delft University of Technology are creating silicone moulds of ancient artefacts taken from Raqqa before the war (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR OLIVIER NIEUWENHUIJSE (PRON: NEWAN-HEIZA), ARCHAEOLOGIST, LEIDEN UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "If you can scan this with the 3D micro CT scanner and you reproduce the object virtually on your object you can then print it to get a very exact replica of the object. Same size, same resolution." This is the result - an exact copy of a 3000 year old clay tablet inscribed in an early script used by several ancient languages It is the kind of irreplaceable artefact being looted or destroyed by Islamic State according to Assyriologists (SOUNDBITE)(English) DR MARK WEEDEN, ASSYRIOLOGY LECTURER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON'S SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES SAYING: "It would be a huge loss to human knowledge if these tablets were not to be recovered in some way. So if there is some way of preserving the information that was held on them through whatever silicon moulds have been made, if I understand correctly, that would be absolutely wonderful." Academics can download the CT scans of the artefacts to either study them on-screen or print their own 3D copy "You end up basically with a digital file that is the object. So you can share this object with colleagues on the other side of the world. You just click on enter and you send the whole object through email and someone else in the States or Canada or wherever, in Syria, can just send it off to his own printer, and print his own copy of the object." In addition to the tablets, moulds of textile and basket work from more than 8000 years ago have been taken in the field The team says scanning them before the silicone disintegrates is vital. Without copies - they could become just another casualty of war