Capturing and Transforming Surface Reflectance: Imaging the Antikythera Mechanism

Tom Malzbender

Tom Malzbender

(Cultural Heritage Imaging)

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Date: January 28, 2015


In 1900, a party of sponge divers chanced on the wreck of a Roman merchant vessel between Crete and mainland Greece. It was found to contain numerous ancient Greek treasures, among them a mysterious lump of clay that split open to reveal ‘mathematical gears’ as it dried out. This object is now known as the Antikythera Mechanism, one of the most enlightening artifacts in terms of revealing the advanced nature of ancient Greek science and technology. In 2005 we traveled to the National Archeological Museum in Athens to apply our reflectance imaging methods to the mechanism for the purpose of revealing ancient writing on the device. These methods capture surface appearance and transform reflectance properties to allow subtle surface shape to be seen that is otherwise difficult to perceive. We were successful, and along with the results of Microfocus CT imaging, epigraphers were able to decipher 3000 characters compared with the original 800 known. This led to an understanding that the device was a mechanical, astronomical computer, built around 150 B.C.E. and capable of predicting solar and lunar eclipses. This talk will overview the reflectance imaging methods as well as what they reveal about the Antikythera Mechanism.

Further Information:

 Tom Malzbender is a researcher who recently completed a 31 year career at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, working at the interface of computer graphics, vision, imaging and signal processing. At HPL he and developed the methods of Fourier Volume Rendering, Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) and Reflectance Transformation, as well as directing the Visual Computing Department. Tom also developed the capacitive sensing technology that allowed HP to penetrate the consumer graphics tablet market. His PTM/RTI methods are used by most major museums in North America and Europe and in the fields of criminal forensics, paleontology and archaeology. He has co-chaired or served on the program comittee of over 30 conferences in computer graphics and vision. Tom now serves on the board of Cultural Heritage Imaging. More information can be found at .

Created: Thursday, January 29th, 2015