3D Scanning: three-dimensional artefacts from the past, for the future – part 1

This is the first in a series of  posts by PHD candidates, which describe in some detail the proceedings of this a recent conference focused on the benefits and issues of 3D scanning in its multifarious forms.  David Errickson is a first year PhD student from Teesside University who attended with support from Jisc.

David’s post
With the greatest of gratitude towards Jisc, the Science & Heritage Programme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and Dr. Phillip Lindley, I was able to attend the two day research session,“3D Scanning: Three-dimensional Artefacts From The Past, For Our Future”.

The symposium was located within the magnificent grounds of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. The college includes notable alumni such as Jeremy Paxman and Sir Ian Mckellen.

St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

The symposium brought together a range of professionals, academics and researchers from many disciplines. The aim of the conference was to discuss the previous developments in 3D scanning, their current applications and what the future has in store for this rapidly evolving field.

As Dr Phillip Lindley brilliantly summarized, imaging has evolved throughout a series of paradigm shifts and is now entering its next phase: ‘3D scanning’. Although as Cheselden rightly said in his book ‘Osteographia’, ‘one view of an actual object is better than any description’, however 3D scanning allows the creation of 3D forms to aid the understanding of an object.

Throughout the conference it was obvious the scientific application of 3D laser scanning is rapidly evolving. 3D laser scanners have been used since the 1980s. However, laser scanning has developed in such a way; it is now possible to reconstruct the topographic qualities of the southern hemisphere of Mercury. To achieve this success, the collaboration of experts from a wide range of disciplines is necessary. Whether it is with space researchers for mapping planets or computer designers for their understanding of a modeled environment, collaboration was constantly highlighted as key to innovation and success.

Day 1: 3D scanning and its uses in Art History and Archaeology.
The advantageous for using 3D laser scanning were a primary theme. Conservation was one of the main benefits highlighted for the application. What is more, 3D laser scanning can be used for the reconstruction of an object. Marcos Rodrigues, Annemarie La Pensée, and Laura Roviras, each discussed the benefits of conservation. Whether it was the documentation of over 400 cultural artefacts (Liverpool Museums), to create a visual permanent collection of metalwork (Sheffield University), or to record monuments for our future understanding after its demise (Magistricataloniae).

It is important to record objects because 3D models, unlike the original objects, do not erode, nor do they become too fragile for the public’s access. Amongst conservation, Anna Thirion showed that digitizing with a 3D laser scanner is being used for good in archaeological research. Anna’s research illustrated the ability to re-piece together a monument that is no longer standing and is located in different places around the world.

Dr. Phillip Lindley and Jack Hinton demonstrated it is possible to convey uncertainty and complexity with scanned data. Old theories could be re-examined and explored while 3D models are helpful to formulate ideas and consider understanding upon analysis.

Although the advantageous of 3D laser scanning were a major focus, it was refreshing to hear Annemarie La Pensée and Marcos Rodrigues discuss the challenges of 3D laser scanning. I feel this is an area often too difficult to discuss because nobody wants to talk about negative results. However, for progression within the field, there is a need to know and understand current challenges. Some of these issues included accuracy, resolution, uncooperative surfaces, operator influence and subjectivity.
The first day was very enjoyable with a range of topics covering archaeology, history, and art. I feel Dr. Phillip Lindley summarized the first day nicely as he said 3D laser scanning “has the ability to accurately scan monuments [and objects] and reconstruct lost monuments” while, “3D scanning is the drive to record an object because of the need to understand an object”. Understanding the object, with the help of collaboration, is something that each presenter included.

Day 2: Wider 3D scanning and digitization projects
The second day has six speakers who were using 3D laser scanners as wider research projects. Their research followed on nicely from the first day. The second day focused on maximizing laser scanning’s potential for the protection and conservation of objects while addressing more of the current challenges.
Paul Bryan spoke about the Stonehenge Landscape Project (Stonehenge Landscape Project) and how 3D laser scanning showed features located upon Stonehenge that had previously gone unnoticed (and increase from 44 to 115 Bronze Age axe head carvings). Douglas Pritchard showed us the fascinating ‘Scottish Ten Project’. This is the protection of five UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites (Scottish Ten Project). Pritchard highlighted the value for protecting heritage due to the current threat to them.

Dr. Andrew Wilson was slightly different focusing on the preservation of fragile human bone specimens. Through the JISC funded digitizing diseases project (Digitizing Disease) Dr. Wilson discussed the benefits for recording material that with time will be destroyed. David Arnold gave the shocking statistic, ‘one sculpture per week is lost in Britain’. Multiple individuals around the world can constantly access a permanent record at the same time without needing the original. With the technology of 3D printing, replicas can be created in their place. This also means it is possible to have the same model in several museums and institutions at once. This is hugely beneficial.

Finally, Mike Howe went even further back in time. Mike’s research (funded by JISC) discussed the benefits for recording fossils (Fossils Online) and creating a publicly accessible online database.
Challenges were also discussed. As David Arnold put it, “It’s a model – not a digital surrogate”. Challenges highlighted included, emerging good practices, file formats, metadata, operational workflows, cost implications, accuracy and precision.

These challenges were also discussed at the round table event. The discussion focused primarily on innovation and adapting old methods to suit new challenges. To do this promoting standards, metadata, data preservation (including storage), and collaboration were the key issues. I feel these points were highlighted through each presentation for the duration of the two-day symposium. There is certainly a mutual relationship and trust issue that has to be addressed. Using connections the development of new technology can be achieved. Yes technology is developing rapidly, however the understanding of technology is not. This may mean taking on more professionals to address the problem.

Final thoughts
There are many advantages as there are disadvantages for using 3D laser scanning, likewise with any other imaging device. There is also a wide range of different apparatus that can be utilized for the necessary requirements. However, I think the underlying theme throughout the 3D laser scanning conference was collaboration. Without collaboration, schools cannot use the material for education, funding cannot be accessed, peer review and standards are not achieved. For the field to improve and continually grow, collaboration must be maintained. To do this future events and conferences like this one must be organized. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.

By Peter Findlay

Subject Matter Expert, Digital Scholarship, Content and Discovery, Jisc

Working with Jisc's Higher Education members to improve access to to their special collections in the age of data-centric arts, humanities and social science research.

I am a site admin for this website.

One reply on “3D Scanning: three-dimensional artefacts from the past, for the future – part 1”

No question this technology will continue to gain academic acceptance. BTW – the link to the research session appears to be non-functional. Can you correct it – if its supposed to be a link?

Thank you for the excellent synopsis. Looking forward to part 2.

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