The squeezes in the F|S Archives' Ernst Herzfeld papers date from 1911-1934. The materials used to create squeezes range from very high-grade, robust paper to low-grade cigarette paper. Over time, the squeezes have been transported around the world, handled and stored in less than ideal conditions, and have suffered from various issues that affect all paper products. The squeezes contain Arabic script, Middle Persian, and Cuneiform impressions from archaeological sites: Bastam, Isfahan, Rayy, Samarra, Shiraz, Sunghur, Taq-i Bustan, Tus, Sarpul, Pasargadae, Persepolis, Naqsh-i Rustam, and Paikuli. The Herzfeld papers have been vital in the research of these sites, and the squeezes he created for temporary reference have helped scholars access information from monuments that for many reasons may no longer be available.
Unreachable Inscriptions and Unreadable Squeezes
Three and a half years ago the F|S Archives hosted a team of international archaeologists to research the ancient Paikuli site of Iraq. Due to a complicated situation, the team's access to the archaeological site and Sassanian Monument was no longer an option. Aware of Ernst Herzfeld's research, the archaeologists traveled to DC to spend two intensive weeks pouring over the 170 Paikuli squeezes in the collection. Unsure of when they could return, they requested reference images for further research. We took snapshots of the squeezes for them, but couldn't help regretting the illegibility of many of the squeezes from poor materials and weathered inscriptions. As we switched the squeezes over we stumbled upon an interesting discovery -- the readability of the inscriptions increased at certain angles of lighting. Realizing there must be potential behind this, I endeavored to find a way to make the ancient inscriptions more readable and reachable.
An inventory was the first major step in preparing to undertake a digital imaging preservation grant project. Over three months an intern conducted an inventory noting the physical conditions of the drawings, maps and squeezes in the collection. With this initial inventory I was able to roughly discern: how many squeezes we had, from which archaeological sites, in which scripts, and in what dimensions.
Identifying Technology and an MCI Partnership
The Freer|Sackler Archives performed initial feasibility testing with several multi-dimensional imaging tool and strategies. Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI) resulted in the most consistent and highest quality scans for the flat-nature, yet 3-D qualities of the squeezes. We identified that the Museum Conservation Institute of the Smithsonian as a knowledgeable tester of RTI technology, and found that MCI was interested in partnering with a collection entity to further their efforts in the technology. Together, we sought funding to acquire equipment that would benefit all Smithsonian units, and hire a skilled contractor to image the squeezes and create a Web resource.