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Face of the Statue of Idrimi. Tell Atchana, Turkey, 16th century BC.

Valuable 3,500-Year-Old Statue of a Syrian Refugee Turned King from Aleppo Goes Online

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A 3,500-year-old statue of a refugee from Aleppo, Syria, that has been in the British Museum for about eight decades due to conservation concerns, can finally be viewed by millions of people from around the world, as 3D scans and a digital model of the rare artifact are now available online.

Who was Idrimi and What Makes His Statue So Unique?

The statue of Idrimi first arrived at the British Museum in 1939 and has never left it again. The inscription that one can clearly see across the front of the statue is now widely-acknowledged as one of the 20 most significant cuneiform documents in history. So, who was Idrimi?

Idrimi was a refugee who fled Aleppo almost 3,500 years ago. Sadly, that is the same city that so many people are fleeing nowadays as well. When Idrimi got older he had the bright idea to make his own statue and have his life story written across the front, from head to toe. His incredible story is inscribed in the wedge-shaped cuneiform script of the ancient Middle East, and it is one of the earliest political autobiographies ever found.

The Statue of Idrimi. Tell Atchana, Turkey, 16th century BC.

The Statue of Idrimi. Tell Atchana, Turkey, 16th century BC. ( Tracey Howe for Making Light )

The inscription narrates a story about Idrimi and his family fleeing Aleppo to his mother's family at Emar on the river Euphrates, after his father had a conflict with the local authorities. However, Idrimi left Emar and went to Canaan in order to restore his family’s prestige. There he made a treaty with the king of Umman-Manda, gathered troops and mounted a seaborne expedition to recover the lost territory from the Hittites. He went on becoming a vassal of King Barattarna who installed him as king in Alalakh, where he ruled for more than three decades. The inscription ends with curses on anyone who dares to desecrate or ruin the statue.

The Evolution of 3D-Scanning Techniques

The London gallery, in collaboration with Factum Foundation, managed to produce accurate 3D renderings of the museum’s famous statue of Idrimi with the help of the most current photogrammetry and 3D-scanning techniques.

Of course, this is not the first time in recent years that modern technology helps researchers to accomplish such a feat. Not too long ago, a team of specialists at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan, recreated the pensive face of an Italian missionary – Giovanni Battista Sidotti – that died in Tokyo in 1714 while he was kept in prison for his beliefs. Even though only the right side of Sidotti's skull was recovered, the experts working on this project managed successfully to flip the digital model of the right side of the skull, to make up for the missing left, on a computer and produce a 3D-printed model to work with.

Three-dimensional models created using data recorded via white light scanning (left) and photogrammetry (right).

Three-dimensional models created using data recorded via white light scanning (left) and photogrammetry (right). ( Factum Foundation )

As The Art Newspaper reports , Factum Foundation, which possess excellent knowledge in data recording and the creation of exact replicas, used two methods in order to produce the 3D renderings of the statue: close-range photogrammetry, which involves taking multiple color photographs of the artifact from different angels, and white light scanning, which captures 3D data by projecting patterns onto the surface of the object. Factum’s founder Adam Lowe focused on the significance and need for emergency recording of at-risk sites, “The costs associated with photogrammetry are much less and you can get very good data without being dependent on expensive equipment,” he told The Art Newspaper

Furthermore, James Fraser, a project curator in the museum’s Middle East department focused on the advancements in digital technologies and how they could be significant key players for curators in the near future, as he tells The Art Newspaper , and continues,

“We are at the birth of new ways of looking at and showing objects and giving them a digital life. It’s amazing to think that this object can be involved in broader exhibitions beyond the British Museum’s walls and help to tell the story of Syria and its heritage and what it was like to be a refugee, albeit one 3,500 years ago.”

A previous digital model of the statue is already online, but Fraser reassures that the new model will be at a higher resolution - which will be more helpful to researchers. It is expected that the new facsimile of the valuable artifact will tour the UK in 2018 with the Making Light Idrimi Project.

Structured light scanning of the Idrimi statue using the Breuckmann Smart Scan 3D.

Structured light scanning of the Idrimi statue using the Breuckmann Smart Scan 3D. ( Tracey Howe for Making Light )

Top Image: Face of the Statue of Idrimi. Tell Atchana, Turkey, 16th century BC. Source: Tracey Howe for Making Light

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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