A 3D digitisation project is proving there’s much more than meets the naked eye to UNE’s unique ancient artefacts.

An effort led by UNE Museum of Antiquities curator Dr Bronwyn Hopwood to move 3,000 ancient artefacts onto an open access online platform for learning and research will increase accessibility, but Dr Hopwood says the process is also bringing to light hidden details.

“3D imagery has come a long way in the past 15 years,” Dr Hopwood says. “We can now do really detailed colour and surface scans, which highlight aspects of an object that are otherwise difficult to notice. These details can tell us more about the production, uses, authenticity and period each object is from,” Dr Hopwood says.

“Structured Light Surface Scans particularly help us to better see and appreciate things like the craftsmanship that went into creating an object.”

To encourage engagement with UNEMA’s collections, Dr Hopwood offers a ‘capstone’ research unit for students from any discipline across UNE who’d like to examine an ancient artefact and its digital persona as part of a significant research project.

Dianne Eyre, who is studying the Bachelor of Historical Inquiry and Practice as well as a Master of Arts (Ancient History) by distance education, is currently utilising a scan of an intriguing vessel in the shape of a boar, originally thought to be from the Etruscan period (5th century BC) of ancient Italy.

“But I haven’t been able to find any reference to that type of container being made by the Etruscans. I think it’s more likely to be from the southern region of Italy, a couple of centuries later,” Dianne says. “This is interesting, because it could have been made by a people group indigenous to the region that we know very little about.” 

While questions remain about the origins and use of the vessel, which Dianne hypothesises may have been a decorative wine pourer for functions like weddings, what is much clearer are the clues to its craftsmanship.

“From the 3D scan, you can see how smooth the surface is and how well the object was made. This one is mould-made and is not a high quality object, so it was probably a popular household object.”

Dianne says the platform also improves the viewer’s interaction with the museum artefacts.

“Using the 3D platform has been excellent. Even if I was on campus I wouldn’t be able to manipulate or enlarge the object like I can from the platform. I can see every part of the object, and every detail, and measure it very accurately. It’s amazing!”

Though it’s the kind of research that takes some patience – especially when it throws up more questions than answers – Dianne says it has been very worthwhile.

“I think this kind of research, looking at the significance of a particular object, makes the research more meaningful and it helps add to our knowledge of ancient peoples. I’ve also been able to talk to and get to know other experts in the field through this project.”

Dr Hopwood says surface scans of many of the Near Eastern and Egyptian artefacts in the Museum of Antiquities will be available on the platform for the Trimester 2 teaching period at the end of June.

Click here to view the 3D scan of the boar-shaped artefact.