Saturday, 30 November 2013

Lincolnshire's archaeology - now in 3D...

When it comes to movies, I confess I'm not a big fan of 3D.  Paying extra for the right to wear uncomfortable and silly glasses isn't something the effect is worth, for me.  But archaeology in 3D?  Well that's a different story.

3D scanning of collections is taking off in in a big way across the museum world, and I'm pleased to say that the project my own museum is working on puts us right there on the cutting edge.  The project is actually a result of us winning the prestigious Contemporary Art Society prize - leading to us being able to purchase a top quality 3D scanner and employ an intern to spend some intensive time using it to digitize selected items from our collections.  The focus of the project is contemporary art - a German artist called Oliver Laric will be using the scans to produce a new artwork for the collections - but the spin off benefits for the collections involved are worth highlighting.

The website developed especially for the project can be found here, and from there you can download the proper stl files for each scan and play with it fully in a 3D environment.  The images on the website and presented here are simple gifs rotating on one axis, but its only when you import them into some 3D software (such as the great free Meshlab app for iPhone) that they really come to life.  People are even starting to use the scans to create new artworks, and these can be seen in the growing 'gallery' section.  

Its the implications for enabling greater digital engagement with archaeological objects that excites me most, however, as the technology has two main benefits - firstly that people not able to visit the museum can access an entire object in one file and play with it to their heart's content and secondly that the scanning process can actually make the objects easier to understand.  As the scans are greyscale, they remove colour differences from corrosion and weathering which can trick the eye, and can make small details such as text and carving on stone much clearer.  The gifs below show some of the archaeological items scanned so far and hopefully demonstrate what I mean.  

There is a third benefit too, actually.  If you look at the medieval font scan below, you'll see its nicely placed on its stand.  The font and stand are two separate objects and this digital trickery is the first time I've been able to see them together as their physical reconstruction is a weighty problem to overcome.  The potential to reconstruct objects in a digital environment is something we've only just begun to experiment with.

Its early days and there's still a lot of experimenting to do with the technology and how we present it, such as issues with authenticity when the reverse of an object can't be scanned.  Otherwise, enjoy the spinniest post ever made on this blog! Weeeeeeeeee!

Roman milestone from Lincoln

Cast of Roman altar from Bordeaux

Anglo Saxon cross base from Digby, Lincs

Medieval font from Lincolnshire

Tombstone of Gaius Valerius (IX Legion), Lincoln

Medieval grave cover from the Malandry, Lincoln

Roman carving (column base?) from Newland, Lincoln

Roman Tyche pilaster from Lincoln

Roman stone torso from Ancaster, Lincs

Roman tombstone from lincoln

Tombstone of Flavius Helius, Lincoln

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