Spectral imaging lights up archaeology conundrum

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Spectral imaging has helped archaeologists decipher the earliest known Hebrew text dating from the 10th century BC.

Headwall Photonics’ Hyperspec SWIR spectral imaging instrumentation was used by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority to analyse five lines of text found on an ancient shard of pottery which dates back 3,000 years. The inscribed pottery chard, known as an ostracon, was scanned and imaged using the high spectral resolution Hyperspec SWIR sensor, which provides spectral imaging capabilities in the range of 1,000 to 2,500nm.

In collaboration with archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Foundation Stone, a non-profit organisation supporting the archeological dig, Headwall application engineers conducted multiple hyperspectral scans of the ostracon which resulted in the identification of new text symbols that will assist the project team in efforts to decipher the text appearing on the pottery shard. Hyperspectral images, which yield information about the chemical composition of an object or scene, allow researchers to analyse information which may not be visible to the naked eye.

Carbon dating of the ostracon reveals the artifact is approximately 1,000 years older than the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Saar Ganor, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: ‘With such an important historical artifact, it is critical to deploy non-destructive analytical techniques such as hyperspectral imaging.’