The point of laser digitizing, unlike photography or x-rays imaging, is to capture the true size and shape of an object as a genuine three-dimensional structure. Basically, the idea is to map the object by deconstructing it into a very larger number of location points that are fixed by each point's latitude, longitude, and elevation in space, just as we characterize the surface of the earth. So, each object is described by its three-dimensional geometry, by as many points as is necessary to define its surface in a three dimensional grid.
To examine cuneiform script, we are adapting methods used in industry and shape-based biological research to capture the tablets and the signs inscribed on them as numbers, x, y and z coordinate measurements, which can be analyzed statistically. This is done with a three-dimensional laser surface scanner, a 3D digitizer. The scanner we use is a table top system developed for a variety of commercial applications. Examples include measuring and testing the accuracy of manufactured parts, perhaps for a car's engine. Or, capturing the shape of an antique glass perfume bottle so that it can be mass produced by machines in a factory. Our scanner operates in a way that resembles scribbling with a pencil to fill in a space on a sheet of paper, but doing it in a very organized and regular way, robotically, as if every pencil dot that is laid down in the process is counted, precisely fixed as a location and measured for thickness. Getting from the tablet to its analysis is a three step process.