Digital Epigraphy in the Tomb of Djehuty (TT 11) at Dra Abu el-Naga (Part 2)
Written by Daniel M. Méndez-Rodríguez, Egyptologist, and Carmen Ruiz Sánchez de León, Digital Artist, Epigraphers at the Spanish mission at Dra Abu el-Naga / ‘Djehuty Project’
To read the first part of this two-part article providing a general introduction to the tomb of Djehuty and showcasing the preliminary epigraphic analysis, click here.
The digital epigraphic record in Djehuty’s chapel comprises five phases: photographic documentation, in situ preliminary drawing, initial inking, collation, and final inking. This procedure ensures that the record is faithful and, in addition, that it reflects the artistic spirit that was embedded in the original work.
1. Photographic documentation
The documentation begins with the photographic capture of the decorated surfaces through photogrammetry. The correct application of this technique requires proper lighting. This means that the entire surface to be photographed must be evenly illuminated, and that the location or intensity of the lighting must not change during the taking of the photographs (fig. 1). Both circumstances will facilitate the digital overlapping of multiple photos with each other, forming a kind of large mosaic.
Regarding the position of the camera, in the case of walls and smooth surfaces, it should ideally be perpendicular to the surface to be captured. Likewise, the lens used, as well as the focal length, aperture and shutter speed, should ideally be kept constant, which favors an optimal rendering of the software that has to process the images to compose the final photogrammetry. With all these factors under control, the possibilities of errors and problems in the composition of the mosaic that makes up the final orthophotography are considerably minimized.
Adequate lighting when photographing the walls is a fundamental issue, mainly due to the type of decoration of Djehuty’s chapel. As mentioned before, the texts and scenes were carved in relief, so the photographs can be radically different depending on the angle of light striking the walls. A frontal lighting is the most suitable, since it avoids the presence of shadows that make it difficult to define the real contour of the reliefs’ incision.
Figure 1. Lighting preparation for photogrammetry of statues and inscriptions on the western wall of the chapel niche.
In addition, the decoration covers the entire surface of the walls of the room, making it difficult for the lighting to be always frontal and homogeneous at all points. To achieve this goal, the spotlights had to be moved during the taking of the images.
The next step is the processing of the photographs using a photogrammetry software. This methodology, commonly used in archeology as a form of documentation and accurate recording, is a technique that uses photographs combined with topographic information by including measurements in 3D coordinates. Image processing was carried out using a specialized software called Agisoft Metashape (fig. 2). This program looks for common points in all the snapshots and creates a kind of digital mosaic of the photographically captured surface. In this way, reliefs, details, damages, and any other type of information that appears on the surface are captured on the digital support. The result is a three-dimensional model from which an orthophotographic image can be obtained.
Figure 2. Three-dimensional model based on an orthophotography created by Agisoft Metashape.
Orthophotographs are visualizations of a surface whose elements have the same scale and proportions. Therefore, they consist of images without visual deformations or optical errors typical of untreated photographs and have the same validity as a cartographic map. Following this methodology, an orthophotography of all the decorated walls of the chapel was made (fig. 3), and each will form the basis for the preliminary in situ drawing (see below in section 2).
Figure 3. Orthophotography of the southern wall of the chapel.
Another peculiarity of Djehuty’s chapel is that certain areas have completely lost their decoration (see Part 1, fig. 9). This phenomenon is notable at the western end of the southern wall of the chapel (see fig. 2 on the left). Remains of the decoration, the outlines of some signs or figures, are still perceptible when a flush lighting is applied to the surface. Unfortunately, the application of a frontal lighting for a correct photogrammetric documentation makes these decoration traces invisible.
In order to document the most eroded areas as well as possible, it was decided to complement the photogrammetric information with that resulting from an image capture technique called RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) commonly used in archeology. This method consists of the photographic capture of a surface modifying the lighting in each snapshot. The variation in the positioning of the flash light will have the shape of a dome in relation to a central point located on the wall, from which it will always be at the same distance. The specific orientation of the light will generate data collected by the projection of the flash on a black sphere (fig. 4). In this way, the series of photographs captures the information on the wall with multiple different sources of light.
Figure 4. Taking photographs to process with the RTI technique.
The series of photographs obtained are processed using the RTI Builder software. The result is an interactive digital representation in the RTI Viewer that can be re-illuminated from any direction and allows surface attributes to be enhanced (fig. 5). All this information in images, that is, the orthophotographs and the RTI, will be the basis of the digital drawing.
Figure 5. Comparison between a wall relief (right) and its display with the RTI viewer (left).
2. In situ preliminary drawing
Digital drawings are initially done using an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil as basic tools. The orthophotos resulting from the photographic documentation and their subsequent processing are entered in the iPad and imported into the Procreate drawing application. This drawing application contains a system of layers that allows to separate, isolate, and organize the different types of content that will be registered in the epigraphic drawing (fig. 6): figures, texts, different types of damage, areas with cement, etc. Annotations on issues of interest are also usually included to consider them in a later digital inking phase (see sections 3 and 5 below). In addition, it allows to include and compare the orthophotography with certain significant captures resulting from the RTI, which will help draw those areas of the decoration that are most eroded and barely perceptible to the naked eye.
Figure 6. Procreate: different types of epigraphic information organized in layers.
Digital drawing is done by tracing the different elements with the Apple Pencil (fig. 7). For example, the contours of different figures, signs, lost areas, etc. are drawn, tracing on top of the orthophotography used as a base.
Figure 7. In situ preliminary drawing using the iPad and the Apple pencil.
Digital drawing done in situ has strong advantages. The person in charge can observe a series of details directly on the wall more clearly and with greater certainty than relying solely on orthophotos. These images are generally made with frontal light to avoid the creation of shadows that can distort the lines and accidents of that surface. But on the other hand, the absence of these shadows can also make it difficult to perceive certain incisions in the relief. The drawer can quickly solve all doubts and avoid mistakes. It is also common that additional lighting is used during the in situ drawing process, such as flashlights and/or mirrors to be able to visualize certain specific details in an optimal way (fig. 8).
Figure 8. Verification of a detail using additional grazing lighting.
The result of this process is a preliminary “pencil” drawing, which includes all the relevant information recorded on the iPads in a precise and organized way (fig. 9). Sometimes the various types of information are drawn in different colors or with different brushes (fig. 10). This facilitates to perceive the state of drawing development and to distinguish all the information registered for the next task: digital inking.
Figure 9. Preliminary drawing made with Procreate.
Figure 10. Preliminary drawing on the iPad using different colors (left) of one of the walls (right).
3. Inking (initial phase)
The next phase consists in the digital inking on the computer using Adobe Photoshop software. The inking is done freehand. This is a more agile and faster process in its execution than the one carried out using a vector program such as Adobe Illustrator. It also makes it possible to preserve the human and aesthetic component that the ancient artist transferred to the work, capturing the essence of the lines left by the original creator. Vector programs allow you to make clean and scalable strokes without loss, that is, you can vary the size and shape without losing quality in terms of resolution. But this gives the drawing a feeling of coldness and artificiality, losing the artistic essence of the works that are being documented. The artistic component of Djehuty’s tomb deserves to be considered and valued, what is best achieved through freehand drawing in Adobe Photoshop.
Before starting this phase of the epigraphic work, it is necessary to take into account a series of parameters and design tools and drawing conventions appropriate to the particularities of Djehuty’s tomb, and plan in advance the aim of the final publication of the mentioned drawings. These preliminary considerations are the basis of the future work with a view to ensuring that the epigraphic documentation of the entire tomb has coherence and homogeneity.
A matter of extreme importance is the scale at which the digital information is going to be transferred to the paper, since the images of the digital inking in Photoshop are made up of pixels, and not vectors, as mentioned before. In the case of Djehuty’s tomb, a scale of 1:4 has been chosen. This scale will be used for the creation and conservation of the epigraphic drawing, although it may vary depending on the needs. This is relevant because, for example, if the lines and patterns that are created are excessively fine or not very dense, they will not be visible in a print at a size that is smaller than the one chosen as final printing size, in this case DIN A3.
The initial phase of the digital inking begins by exporting the drawings “in pencil” from the iPads to the desktop computer, so that they can be used as the basis for a new drawing made using Adobe Photoshop. This inking consists in refining the copy by drawing only the reliefs and inscriptions without any additional information.
The optimal visualization of all components of the walls’ decoration requires a basic convention: the thickness of the lines. The existence of different sizes of figures and signs makes it necessary to design a set of suitable brushes for each of them. The larger the element to be drawn, the thicker the brush should be and vice versa. This is necessary so that when viewing the entire composition as a whole, each element appears clearly defined and with strokes proportionate to its size within each panel. For this reason, different thicknesses of brushes have been used depending on the size (large, medium, or small), the type of element to be reproduced (figure or hieroglyphic sign) and the sculpting technique used (raised and sunk relief) (fig. 11).
Figure 11. Initial phase of inking with lines of different thicknesses.
The next step is the collation or in situ correction of the inked drawings. A person other than the drawer checks in front of the wall that all the information of interest has been accurately recorded. Those elements with which he/she disagrees with the drawer (fig. 12) are marked for a third check by both of them.
Figure 12. Collation of the first version of the inked drawing.
5. Inking (final phase)
The final phase of digital inking consists of two fundamental steps. In the first place, the pertinent modifications resulting from the collation of the drawings are included. Second, other data is added from the in situ preliminary drawings. This brings us back to the tools and conventions designed for the representation of the different components that make up the drawing.
The first type of information that is added is the shadows, since these are of great importance to represent relief. The line that delimits the contour of the figure –already represented in the initial phase of inking– is called by convention “sun line”. In the case of reliefs, the “shadow line” must also be defined, which varies depending on whether it is a raised and sunk relief. Standardized rules for archaeological and epigraphic drawing dictate that the item drawn must be illuminated from the upper left side. Thus, the raised relief will present shadows in the lower right part of the sun line, while, on the contrary, the sunk relief will have these shadows in the upper left part of the interior of the figures. As noted, Djehuty’s chapel features raised relief figures and sunk relief hieroglyphs. The thickness of the “shadow line” will be slightly greater than the corresponding “sun line” of the same figure or hieroglyphic sign.
The vicissitudes that affect the walls of Djehuty’s tomb require defining a series of previous conventions to capture this heterogeneous information. An example of this is the various forms of damage: different types of erosion, damnatio memoriae, looting of reliefs, etc. The conventions reached are transferred to the drawing in the form of patterns and are applied trying to show the greatest amount of information without reducing the legibility of the final representation.
Patterns have been designed so they are as close as possible to the reality that they are going to represent in order to maintain the artistic essence of the work and, at the same time, transmit all the scientific information that an epigraphic drawing must contain (fig. 13). For example, in the case of the pattern created to indicate the areas in which Djehuty’s name has been intentionally erased (damnatio memoriae), we have sought to recreate the blows of the chisel and the marks on the wall that caused the erasing. As for the cement used in the recent restoration of the tomb, it is represented in a neutral gray. In this case, the information in those areas has not only been lost but has been replaced by modern materials that fill the gap. On the other hand, the salts that emerge in certain areas of the walls as a result of humidity are represented by small circles, which imitate the effect that this phenomenon causes on the surfaces.
Figure 13. Patterns used as conventions to represent different types of natural and anthropic alterations.
The application of the conventions for the “shadow lines” and the different patterns result in a final product with optimal legibility of all the relevant epigraphic information contained in the decorated surface (fig. 14). This drawing will be again collated and retouched until the final version is reached.
Figure 14. Drawing during the final inking process.
The digital epigraphy of Djehuty’s tomb is presented as a complex and laborious process that is fully justified due to the exceptional artistic and aesthetic characteristics of the work. A mere current photographic record does not represent with optimal legibility all the information that the walls contain. In numerous occasions some reliefs are not visible and are affected by various vicissitudes such as, for example, strong erosion and blackening of the surfaces. Additionally, the photographs do not sufficiently reflect the plasticity and intrinsic value conferred more than 3000 years ago by draftsmen and stone-carvers.
The application and adaptation of the Chicago House epigraphic method to Djehuty’s monument has led to the creation in Adobe Photoshop of multiple patterns to represent various phenomena. In addition, it has made necessary the design of a series of tools: an extensive set with brushes for the sun and shadow lines, specific to draw each relief technique and size of figure or hieroglyph sign.
The digital tools currently available make it possible to perfectly combine the precision of scientific documentation and, at the same time, maintain the quality and artistic and handmade qualities that the use of freehand drawing brings. It is a perfect combination of technology and art for the registration and enhancement of the work that represents the tomb of Djehuty.
Undoubtedly, the tomb in its extension will present new challenges, such as some areas in which the reliefs appear blackened by the effect of fire, and which will require the design of new patterns. On the other hand, we still have to consider how the demotic graffiti and the color decoration that are still preserved in different areas of the walls will be represented.
Special thanks to José M. Galán and Lucía Díaz-Iglesias for their suggestions and improvements to the texts, and to Krisztián Vértes for his support and advice.
Bibliography (by chronological order)
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