Digital epigraphy of the temple of Debod

Oct 2, 2018

Process of digital drawing of the reliefs using Adobe Illustrator

Project description

A Spanish team of the University of La Laguna, Tenerife is currently recording and studying the scenes and inscriptions of the Meroitic temple from Debod, Nubia, now in Madrid, under the project title “tA-Hwt, Digital Techniques applied to the Inscriptions and Reliefs of the Temple of Debod’.

Decorative program

“The core of the temple is a small decorated shrine erected by the Meroitic king Adikhalamani in honour of Amun of Debod in the place where a chapel built by Seti II originally stood. Ptolemy VI enclosed the shrine within a typical Ptolemaic temple structure, turning it into a rectangular building with access to a terrace and with a screen-walled, columned façade. It was then dedicated additionally to Isis of Philae. Finally, Augustus and Tiberius added a vestibule and a landing place. The decorative scheme of the temple thus covers the Meroitic, Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.”

Documentation method

The project “combines the use of digital or digitised photographs with computer programs of vector drawing. As regards the photographs, the ideal is to have several pictures of a given scene, shot from the same camera position but with light projected from different angles, in order to avoid problems of perception created by varying shadows and highlights. The software chosen for the graphic representation is a program of vector-based drawing (using Adobe Illustrator) which allows information to be added and recorded in several layers.”

“Our main criterion in the design of a methodology for epigraphic reproduction is that the drawings should include the maximum amount of information possible from the scenes without hindering understanding of the original decorative scheme. To avoid confusion we use different thicknesses of lines and patterns to identify the contours of figures (and to show their physical details such as muscles and bone structures), frames of scenes and inscriptions, architectural elements and surfaces lost by erosion or by the use of cement in old restorations. Thanks to the historical documentation described above, reconstructions of areas which are now eroded can be suggested in the drawings. The working protocol usually followed in digital epigraphy consists of taking a series of photographs, lit from different angles, of a scene, reducing the distortion of the lens by means of programs for correcting images, assembling the photographs to create a template, ‘screen’ drawing over this template, collating the drawings in front of the original surfaces and then making any necessary corrections.”

Visual example(s)

Augustus presents three bound animals as offerings to Isis. Drawing by Daniel M Méndez Rodríguez.

Comparative views of part of a scene as shown by Roeder (left), in a recent photograph by José Latova (centre) and in the digital drawing by Lucía E Díaz-Iglesias Llanos (right).

What we like

  • Clean, single-weight lines representing the carved decorative surface.
  • Larger damaged areas are represented by a complex system of homogeneous grayscale patches. Darker color indicates damages and eroded surfaces at the edges of blocks, while lighter color is used to show surface damages caused by various weather conditions and human impacts. 
  • Decorative surface areas that were in a deteriorated state at the time of documentation, but were clearly visible on old archival photographs are shown by basic dotted outlines.
  • Blocks that are heavily damaged and could be reconstructed only from archival photographs are indicated by a veil of light gray dotted texture applied over the decorative surface.

Additional reading

For the original context of the material appearing in this article see:

Lucía E Díaz-Iglesias Llanos, Daniel M Méndez Rodríguez – Digital epigraphy of the temple of Debod in: Egyptian Archaeology (EA) 45 (2014): 39-41.

To read more about the epigraphical project of recording the graffiti in the temple of Debod go to

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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