New technologies illuminate Babylonian tale


New technologies at Warwick University have helped British Museum’s Babylonian language expert, Dr Finkle, to decipher a 4,000 year old tablet believed to narrate the story of Noah’s Ark.

Inscribed in Babylonian ‘cuneiform’ – the world’s oldest known standardised writing system – the tablet is believed to depict the story of a Noah-like character and a flood, complete with instructions on how to build an Ark.

Cuneiform is a writing system which involved marking wet clay tablets with a stylus (a wedge-like tool). The tablet and stylus exist in essence today.

The tablet, discovered 20 years ago on a mantel piece in a UK home was damaged in parts due to millennial ‘wear and tear ‘ and rendered indecipherable. The 3D visualisation technologies, typically used in engineering, have enabled the translation of the whole tablet and uncovered new insights into the tablet’s story. 


3D visualisation technology marries techniques such as computer aided design (CAD), infrared technology, animation software and photo capture. Often used in vehicle production, the same methods involved in projecting a potential end product was adopted for projecting the missing parts of the ancient tablet.

Projected onto a 3D wall, the tablet was made viewable at all angles via 3D visualisation technology. This allowed Dr Finkle to decipher the complete text of the tablet.


The new vision of the tablet and revised translation suggests that the ark that featured in the story was round in shape, rather than the previously assumed oval boat-shape. This suggests that the ark was possibly built to float rather than sail.

Professor Mark Williams of Warwick University worked in collaboration with Dr Finkel to reveal the text of the ancient tablet. He comments;

“It was fantastic to apply our technology to such an exciting find. Usually we are working on something engineering-related, so to be able to take our expertise and transfer that to something totally different and so historically significant was a really interesting opportunity”. (Professor Mark Williams, Warwick University).


Warwick Press Release

Translate text to cuneiform 

Image creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Al_HikesAZ

Dr Finkle image with thanks to Warwick University Media Library