Artifacts from the Ancient Near East have an extensive shape variation, and are above all, worked out extremely detailed, among others, just think of cuneiform tablets or seal impressions. Normal imaging techniques such as technical drawings or digital photography are therefore often insufficient to record correctly all and the finest characteristics on a surface. Since the beginning of the 2000s with the introduction of 3D technologies and interactive 2D methods such as photometric stereo and polynomial texture mapping researchers were offered new solutions to address these challenges. In the meantime, results of such methods are omnipresent. They have been used for basic registration work, research, as for the dissemination of the objects to a wider audience.
The objectives, the methods used and the technical limitations of these methods are not always aligned. An all-inclusive system where one recording can serve all planned or future goals, seems ideal. Other approaches advocate for a bundling, to carry out a set of methods within one and the same registration effort. The effectiveness of imaging techniques in relation to the objectives is a complex of parameters for which both direct and indirect criteria should be assessed; and this for each (sub)type of artefact separately. Since the arsenal of objects from the Ancient Near East seems almost limitless, because imaging techniques have a technological threshold, because digitalisation leads to a variety of computer files and since time is money; the indirect criteria will even play a dominant role in this assessment. Therefore, through this study focus will be laid on the accuracy and objectivity of the result; the visualization capabilities for the different types of surface characteristics; the speed and the necessary experience of/for the applied recording techniques; the accessibility of the techniques used and the results obtained; the storage requirements and durability of the data sets; the cost of the required equipment and operation staff and; how the results have the potential to facilitate new, not yet defined research questions.
This study investigates and demonstrates the interaction between the object, the purpose of the imaging effort and the applied imaging method for a selection of artefacts representative for the material culture of the ancient Near East. To a large extent this is based on proper experiments and elaborated strategies. These were applied for the imaging of extensive collections belonging to scientific institutions and excavation projects; for the study and publication of artefacts, as for the dissemination via online or museum applications. Where proper work did not touch this range of possibilities, examples and conclusions from published results of other research groups were taken into account.