The Bridges Collection

Project Blog

The Bridges Collection

The Bridges collection comprises some 200 objects from Cyprus given to the University of St Andrews on permanent loan by the Bridges family.

The collection is housed in the School of Classics, University of St Andrews and is under the care of the Museum and Collections unit.

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The material was collected in Cyprus when the Bridges family worked there and the Collection pre dates the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970.

Since 2016, a collaborative project between the School of Classics and Museum and Galleries has sought to make the collection freely accessible, provide more context as well as undertake a series of experiements concerning perceptions of material culture.

 

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Fundamental to this has been the recording of the collection to make 3D images. Even with limited resources we have been able to scan 70% of the images and they are now available for free download on Sketchfab. We have been using the 3D images most recently as part of a project in collaboration with colleagues in neuroscience to test memory retention of archaeological material when experienced in different ways: 3D, sensory box, behind glass case and touching the object. The inital results have been surprising!

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If you would like a copy of our quick guide to 3D scanning and sketchfab, please feel free to download it here:  Creating 3D Models Quick Guide.

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Between Worlds: Writing with Masks

A half-day workshop at MUSA with JL Williams

 

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JL Williams with satyr mask

The recent StAnza Poetry Festival in St Andrews provided a wonderful excuse to get the Bridges collection out and inspire some creative writing. We were lucky to have the opportunity to work with the poet JL Williams, who has a particular interest in the crossover between poetry and other art forms such as music, visual art, dance, opera and theatre. Her workshop at MUSA explored ‘masks of the imagination’ and included artefacts used in rituals to transport people from one world to another. Here she shares her thoughts about the day and her own poem, ‘Big Mother Silence’.

 

Writing is transformation. It is a way of bringing what is inside out, and of sharing the essence of what we are with others, through potentially vast tracts of time and space.

‘I’ll go slowly here: if metaphor is not idle comparison, but an exchange of energy, an event, then it unites the world by its very premise — that things connect and exchange energy.’ – Mary Ruefle 

I was thrilled when Annie Rutherford, StAnza Poetry Festival’s Programme Co-ordinator, got in touch to ask if I would run a workshop at the 2018 StAnza Festival in collaboration with MUSA. The workshop would revolve around writing in response to objects in the collection. The objects would include portraits, self-portraits and a collection of masks and figurines from MUSA’s archaeology and ethnography collection, as selected by curators Alison Hadfield and Lisa Scrimgeour.

Before the workshop Alison sent me through the list of objects and links to virtual and in some cases 3D representations, and it gave me the idea that it would be interesting to share these with the participants before the workshop so they could encounter them virtually and then see how that compared to meeting them in real life.

We had a full house on the day, with many writers from different backgrounds and countries in the room. First we did some free writing and introductions to warm up and talked about the self in writing. It was fascinating to hear how the notion of the self, and what was safe or acceptable to share and reveal, varied from person to person and culture to culture. A woman from Belgium said that there it was accepted that people had many selves and that one should be honest and open about each. A Scottish man said he had been born with an original self but felt he had formed multiple selves over time to fit into different social situations, and that it would not be normal to share a multiplicity of these at once.

We discussed the spectrum of exposing the self through our writing, and how some confessional writers bore all whereas some – especially moving into realms of non-fiction and academic writing, showed very little of the self though arguably the self is always visible in some way in a text, even if through that which we do not say.

We then had a guided tour of the objects by the curators. It was remarkable to be able to see these objects up close, hear in detail about each of their histories and even be able to hold and touch them, some many thousands of years old.

I was particularly struck by a small figurine, made in Cyprus during the Archaic period (745-475 BC). A male figure in terracotta clay, whose red and black painted decoration was still visible, and even the fingerprint marks of the person who formed him. Two holes in the front of the figurine, as well as the beautiful way it fits even now into the palm of a closed hand, has led experts to surmise that it might have been a bell, and used as part of burial ritual to signal the transition from one stage of existence to another. 3D model of bell figurine

After exploring all the objects and portraits, we returned to our notepads and I asked the poets to write a poem which engaged both with their self or personal experience and with the object in some way – ideally representing some sort of transition or transformation. We had a little time at the end to share these baby poems and I was delighted by the range and depth of what was produced in such a short period of time. Some people focused on a more ekphrastic style of writing* in which they described their chosen object in close detail – revealing their self in what they noticed – and some found ways through the objects to talk about powerful moments of change in their own lives.

Workshop participants

I wanted the entire experience of the workshop to feel like a ritual in which we opened ourselves up to the creativity of others… their objects produced across vast distances in time and space, and found within ourselves ways to communicate with this creative energy and make it come alive again in our own work. I hope the writers at the workshop, and you, might take the idea of ritual and responding to art in the world around you to heart and make your own experiments with writing between worlds.

My workshop poem inspired by Big Mother, Pat Douthwaite, 1994, Lithograph:

 

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lying in this silent house
your blanketed arms rise
to buffet my ringing ears with silence

the silence my empty rooms
ring with this year
and will ring with each year

the silence of this room
the silence of this open mouth
of wound

a generative quality
you impregnate this silence with
your massive embodiment

of a silent mask beneath which
I discover the productivity
of silence

a dynamic and two-fold realisation
though not a mother I am
the mother of silence

 

JL Williams (StAnza – MUSA – 2018)
www.jlwilliamspoetry.co.uk

*The term ‘ekphrastic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘ekphrasis’, meaning ‘description’. A really good explanation and example can be found here: Poetry Foundation

A Hidden Treasure: A New Approach to Digital at the Natural History Museum

During a recent trip down to London for the Relevance Conference held at Historic Royal Palaces, our Research Assistant Hannah Sycamore had the chance to explore the Treasures Cadogan Gallery at the Natural History Museum. Here is her review of their display and digital provision.

I visited the Natural History Museum on a Tuesday lunchtime in October. The whole museum was teeming with tourists, school children and families. I headed in under the 25.2 metre long skeleton of Hope the whale and meandered up the main staircase to the Treasures Gallery which is situated just at the top of the stairs. The Treasures Gallery brings together 22 disparate objects from the museum collection. All these objects tell an extraordinary story about our planet, or the people who have explored it. There is an audio guide to the gallery available to download here. The objects on display are varied, everything from a Neolithic hand axe to Victorian glass models, to specimens to contemporary artworks.

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The Treasures Gallery display

The gallery is small space and is carefully laid out. Objects are presented on a black background in glass display cases on small plinths and spot-lit; giving the clear message to the visitor that these objects are valuable and to be treasured. The digital media is cleverly integrated alongside the objects, and four of the objects have hands on “touch objects” (or replicas) next to them.

The touch-screen digital panel caters to all visitors through layered interpretation. Each object has around 8-10 tabs, and the visitor can click on a tab or swipe to move the screen to the next page. The first page is akin to a standard museum label, around 30 words long providing essential information. Following this, the pages explore more detailed stories, themes or historical information connected to the object. The final two tabs direct visitors to information online via their mobile and to other objects around the museum which may interest them.

This layered approach to interpretation, allowing visitors to choose the level of information which suits their interest, reminded me of the approach taken at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. However, rather than using digital to layer the information, in the World Cultures section, here the curators used the physical space of the museum. They carefully tracked their visitor flow, and noticed that families tended to stay on the ground floor and rarely made it to the first or second floor. They adapted their interpretation accordingly to suit their visitor’s needs. As you work your way up the floors, the interpretation is aimed more at adults and individuals with specialist interest, whereas on the ground floor the interpretation is more hands-on and aimed at encouraging family interactions. The advantage to digital media, as shown in the Treasures Gallery, is that you can seamlessly integrate layered interpretation into one gallery space; simultaneously catering to a range of visitor needs and interests.

Equally, at the Treasures Gallery, they have combined hands-on learning with their layered interpretation by placing four replicas or “touch objects” places next to the digital panel and, importantly, near to the original object. Observing how visitor interacted with these objects was especially interesting, as it paralleled findings from our Through a Glass Darkly project on how visitor use their sense of touch to further their understanding of an object. Whilst I was looking at the Barbary Lion Skull, I was joined by George, aged around 7, with his grandparents. Initially he was a little hesitant touching the replica, not sure if he was allowed. But after a minute of pointing at its teeth and comparing to his own, he touches the skull- paying close attention to its teeth and eye-hole sockets- and moved between the original (running around me) and back to the replica. I spent about 45 minutes in the gallery, and it was fascinating to watch how many people interacted with the replicas, adults and children. Especially rewarding to touch was the replica Nautilus Shell, and feel the scrimshaw carved decoration and detail. It gave a layer of understanding and appreciation of the skill involved in carving which might have been missed by simply looking at the object.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the careful thought given to the interpretation in the Treasures Gallery. The use of digital in this manner allowed visitors to tailor their experience of an object, choosing how much detail they wanted and allowing them to take control of their own learning within a museum setting. Equally, placing the replicas next to the originals echoes the findings from our research; allowing visitors to use their sense of touch to further their understanding of an object. One area worthy of further research might be to what effect the “authenticity” of replica material has on visitors’ learning and understanding of an object. All the “touch objects” in the Treasures Gallery were plastic. I wonder, should our replica pots in Through a Glass Darkly be made from clay or could they be 3D printed? Would this have impacted on our research? Does the replica need to feel “authentic” to further understanding and enable visitors to draw parallels between replica and original? Such questions perhaps warrant their own research.

Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland

A few weeks ago we reviewed other digital learning providers working in heritage organisations in Scotland as part of the Scottish Learning Festival. This review explored other institutions working within the Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland (hereafter DLTSS). But what is the Digital Learning Strategy? What are its main aims? And what are the implications for heritage organisations working with digital technologies? Our research assistant, Hannah Sycamore, summaries the key points of the strategy and concludes by discussing the main areas where heritage organisations can contribute to and benefit from the strategy. 

Summary of the Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland

The DLTSS was released in 2016 by the Scottish Government. Prior of this, a Digital Strategy for the whole of Scotland was released in 2011. The DLTSS states its aim is to ensure “that all citizens are included and confident in the digital society that Scotland will become is critical to the future of a fairer Scotland” through digital technology which “can enrich learning and teaching”. The digital provision in Scotland needs to be comprehensive in its approach to “ensure all our learners develop a level of general and specialist digital skills that are so vital for learning, life and work in an increasingly digitised world”.  The strategy is structured around four main areas or “objectives” which are: the skills of our educators; access to technology; curriculum and assessment; and leadership. The longevity of DLTSS will “ensure that digital technology is a key consideration in the planning and delivery of all future learning and teaching”.

The core outcomes for the strategy are tied to the Scottish Governments National Improvement Framework and Scottish Education Development Plan. The vision is to achieve excellence through raising attainment and closing the attainment gap, and to achieve equity, ensuring that every child has the same opportunity to succeed. Digital technology is just one tool available to learning professionals to utilise to achieve these goals.

Summary of the four main objectives:

  1. Develop the skills and confidence of educators in the appropriate and effective use of digital technology to support learning and teaching

Prior to the strategy, Young Scot asked 250 young people from across Scotland aged 11-25. Their general concuss was that the digital resources in their school was low and that teachers lacked knowledge of how to use digital technology. The strategy identifies the skills of educators and learning professionals as a key area for improvement. However, the key point to emphasise is that “the potential lies not in the technology itself but in our educators”. Digital technology is “a powerful, flexible and engaging tool” but only when wielded effectively.

  1. Improve access to digital technology for all learners

The strategy states that all learners are to benefit from an education enhanced by digital learning. However, access, infrastructure and sustainability of digital technology will all need to be improve and considered. Prior to the strategy, the Children’s Parliament consulted with 92 children from across Scotland aged 8-11. The main comments there that their access to digital technology at school was restricted by the lack of equipment and skills of their teachers. The strategy briefly touches upon the importance of partnerships to improve digital access and skills development opportunities- here perhaps the heritage sector can offer support by entering into partnerships with local education institutions.

  1. Ensure that digital technology is a central consideration in all areas of the curriculum and assessment delivery

The importance of encouraging the development of digital literacy is clear in our digital world. However, for pupils to “fully benefit from an education enhanced by digital technology” the strategy states that digital technology must “find a place in all curriculum areas”. Cross curricular learning is core to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and digital learning is expected to permeate all curriculum areas.

  1. Empower leaders of change to drive innovation and investment in digital technology for learning and technology.

For digital learning to be used consistently to enhance learning and teaching nationally, leaders at all levels are required to understand the benefits of digital technology. “Leaders” includes head teachers, ELC managers, classroom teachers, ECL practitioners, ICT managers, quality improvement officers, local authority officers and individuals working in the digital sector. Communication is key to ensuring that all these individuals can make an informed decision on how best to use digital technology to support education in their context.

Significantly the strategy states that “it is only by achieving all four of these objectives that we will create optimum conditions for the effective and appropriate use of digital technology to enhance and support education”.

Where does heritage fit into this?

The main areas where the heritage sector can support the DLTSS are: the skills of our educators; access to technology; and leadership.

The heritage sector has always offered educators and learning professionals CLPL (Career Long Professional Learning) and as the sector grows in its provisions and experience of digital technology, it can certainly offer training and sharing experience and skills in using the digital services it offers in the classroom. This is an area of development for our Through a Glass Darkly project too. 3D models are an excellent tool for learning, but learning professionals may require training to gain the most for their pupils.

Equally, the sector can also offer support through encouraging access to technology. This might be through offering specialist digital experiences pupils might not get in schools, such as immersive game experience at the Battle of Bannockburn, or it might be through offering virtual reality experiences, or an education experience through an engaging app. It could also be through working in partnership with local education institutions. As we explored in last week’s blog post, there is a great variety of approaches to digital technology taken by heritage organisations across the sector. Museums and heritage sites can certainly work with local education providers to improve access to digital technology for all learners.

Finally, heritage organisations can offer support to leaders in their area and offer advice on how best to adapt digital technology to their specific context. However, heritage organisations can also be leaders themselves by taking innovative approaches to digital technology and learning. Most museums are looking to invest in one way or another in digital technology. Heritage organisations can share the skills and knowledge they gain from this investment with colleagues across the education sector.

UMAC Conference

This year’s UMAC (University Museums and Collections) conference was held in Helsinki, Finland from 4-8 September. Alison Hadfield presented a paper on behalf of our team and reports back on some of the highlights from her trip.

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The 2017 UMAC conference was attended by around 100 delegates from 26 countries, representing most regions of the world and a variety of University museums. It was brilliantly organised, with a packed programme of papers, workshops and museum visits, hosted jointly by the University of Helsinki and University of Jyväskylä (pronounced something like ‘Yoo-va-skoo-la’ though it defeated most of us!).

The main theme of the conference was ‘global issues in university museums and collections’ covering topics as diverse as community engagement, sustainable heritage management and the ethics of displaying human remains. My paper addressed the issue ‘how can we engage faculty and students with our collections when the educational system has been transformed by technology?’

This was an ideal context in which to present the results of our research from Through A Glass Darkly – Art of Artefact. During our experiments with focus groups last year, we observed some broad generational differences in visitors’ responses to digital material. As might be expected, it excited children far more than adults and sparked interaction within the group. By contrast, browsing was a solitary experience for adults, many of whom felt “distanced” from the images. Despite the visual appeal and research potential of the 3D digitisations, the project found unanimously that participants preferred to interact with real objects. Furthermore, as they explored each object using more of their senses they gained a fuller understanding of its original purpose and archaeological context.

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I was really interested to hear what Lyndel King and Graciela Weisinger had to say on this subject in their presentation, ‘Neuroscience + technology = the challenge of redesigning the way of learning at university museums’. At the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) Massachusetts, USA, they have taken the unusual step of hiring neuroscientists to help curators understand how the human brain is wired to appreciate art. For example, they conducted an eye-tracking study to find out what people looked at most in paintings and discovered that the focal points were invariably human figures, animals and areas of high contrast, such as trees in a forest (good news for Finland!). Lyndel also discussed the role of the senses and emotions in learning, noting that smell is strongly tied to memory and can directly trigger an emotional response. Stories are also easily remembered because they appeal to our emotions and give meaning to things.

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In many ways, this paper provided a scientific explanation for what we saw in our own study, and supports the argument that exhibitions should be multi-sensory and ‘tell a good story’. It would be fascinating to run an eye-tracking study with some of the objects from the Bridges Collection or to re-create the smell from our Iron Age aryballos (perfume bottle)! The final cautionary word from Lyndel’s team is that we need to think very carefully when and how to use new technology in museums. Social media and surfing the net may stop us getting bored, but some research suggests that boredom stimulates creativity and that multitasking actually impairs our ability to focus. Coincidentally, I found an article on the same subject by former Prime Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb in Finnair’s in-flight magazine! He observes; “modern communication channels are training my brain to read a paragraph or two, then move on to the next thing…Neuroscientists have explained this phenomenon. We learn something new quickly and get a dopamine rush from it” but “studies show that surfing the web makes you more tired than intensive deep reading”. Perhaps in our super-connected, hectic modern world we will see a return to the idea of museums as places of contemplation!

On the subject of museum spaces, Kali Tzortzi, Assistant Professor of Museology at the University of Patras, Greece, gave a thought-provoking presentation on ‘Human Remains, Museum Space and the ‘Poetics of Exhibiting’. She has studied the way museum architecture and exhibition layout influence visitors’ reactions to exhibits, especially bodies. At the British Museum, for example, Egyptian mummies are displayed in glass cases along a main thoroughfare, whereas the Lindow Man is located in a more secluded corner of the newer Iron Age gallery, in a dimly lit, corner case. This somehow affords it a little more privacy and recognition that it was once a living being. This is taken even further at the Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus, Denmark, which houses the famous bog body of the ‘Grauballe Man’.  He is set low in the ground, surrounded by offerings, and visitors approach quietly to view his remains. The effect is more like a memorial than a museum: http://www.visitaarhus.com/ln-int/grauballe-man-gdk943056

On a lighter note, I really enjoyed listening to Yves Winkins’ reflections on working with contemporary artists at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. A museum of industrial design, its founding purpose was to collect the latest technological inventions and assist with the training of tradespeople. In order to reinvigorate the displays, the museum has recently collaborated with 3 contemporary artists, Oscar Lloveras, Claude Lévêque and Cécile Raynal. Their work invariably disrupted the status quo of the museum and Yves Winkins shared the reactions of staff and visitors:

In addition to all the presentations there were lots of informal opportunities to share experiences with other delegates and I enjoyed learning a little about Finnish culture and history from our hosts. We were treated to some amazing Finnish hospitality, including what can only be described as a ‘feast’ on our last night at Jyväskylä.

For more photos and discussion from the conference, see UMAC’s Facebook and Twitter pages:

https://www.facebook.com/UMAC-2017-Finland-328985574159850/

https://twitter.com/umac_icom

Review: The Scottish Learning Festival

On 20th and 21st September the Glasgow SECC hosted the Scottish Learning Festival, one of the largest education events in Scotland. There were over 200 stall holders and 4500 delegates at this year’s conference, and the Through a Glass Darkly project team were amongst them! We hosted a stall in the new Heritage Village alongside other Scottish heritage organisations, including Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the National Trust for Scotland, The Palace of Holyroodhouse and Go Industrial Museum Collective. The Heritage Village was new for 2017 as this year is Scotland’s year of History, Heritage & Archaeology. Running concurrent to the exhibition hall and stalls were a range of lectures, discussion panels and workshops exploring a range of topics relating to education and learning in Scotland.

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Stall HA6 in the Heritage Village

Our stall was positioned opposite Historic Environment Scotland in the Heritage Village, and over the two days members of the team presented the project, it’s results, and the potential uses of the Bridges Collection in teaching and learning to attendees. One focus of several sessions at the conference was the Scottish Digital Learning Strategy and how to implement this in learning, in schools and more broadly across Scotland. This focus of the conference offered a great context to discuss our 3D digital models of the collection available on Skethfab, and how they could be used to engage learners in archaeological material through technology.

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Discussing the 3D models with visitors to SLF

As well as sparking fruitful discussions and ideas for development, the learning festival also offered the opportunity for us to hear about a range of projects and chat to other stallholders about the work they are undertaking in the digital sphere. Here are some of the highlights from our time at the conference:

Projects

Inspiring Young People into Digital Skills- Edinburgh College

As part of the Inspiring Young People into Digital Skills seminar, representatives from Edinburgh College explored the work they have been conducting with students and digital technology in the heritage setting. Students had been working on the Global Treasures App, which makes clue based trails for visitor attractions, locally and globally. Scottish examples of the App include trails at Edinburgh and Stirling Castle. When hearing about the app, the new developments in visitor experience at the Banqueting House, London, as part of the “Lost Palace” digital experience sprang to mind. In Edinburgh, students worked with Global Treasures Apps to develop a treasure hunt app for other HES properties. The college felt that this project helped to better equip their students for their working life the digital age.

Our Digital Journey- Inverbrothock Primary School

Another fascinating project was presented by Inverbrothock Primary School, Arbroath. As a school they have embraced the national Digital Learning Strategy and have focused on developing skills in coding. There are already a number of projects and national frameworks devoted to encouraging girls and young women into computer science and coding (see Girls Who Code, and Closing the Gender Gap Lesson Plans), but I was fascinated by how early the teachers at Inverbrothock had introduced computer coding to pupils (P2 onwards). They highlighted ways to introduce the topic, and activities for coding that can be completed without using a computer at all. This is known as “unplugged learning”. One activity they presented to the audience involved following instructions to draw a picture (see below). The activity emphasised the importance of having precise, clear and detailed instructions, especially when working with computers, as all the pictures the audience created were different. The teachers at Inverbrothock Primary School firmly believe that teaching computer science from a young age will equip them in future.

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Unplugged Learning: My creation following instructions given by Inverbrothock Primary School 

Useful links:

https://code.org/

https://barefootcas.org.uk/

https://scratch.mit.edu/

 

Using HES to Support Learning 

A holistic approach to digital learning in a heritage context was presented by SCRAN staff during the Using HES to Support Learning workshop. The presentation explored a WW1 project run at Forthview Primary School. The students not only used the archive material for research, they took part in immersive heritage learning at Edinburgh Castle and developed their own short animation film using the archive material and their own drawings. What was most exciting about this project was the creative and multidisciplinary approach taken to the digital material. For example, links were made to literacy through reading Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, as well as links to the Expressive Arts through the animation project. The digital material held on SCRAN was a springboard for activities across a range of curriculum areas. Find out more about the project here and see the video pupils at Forthview created here.

Connecting Scotland’s Sound

A project which offers a different approach to digital technology and heritage is Connecting Scotland’s Sounds. They are based at the National Library of Scotland and champion the preservation and sharing of Scotland Audio Heritage. The possibilities and importance of utilising of digital technology can certainly be felt, especially for a project which works solely with our intangible heritage. They aim to raise skills in sound archiving, including digitisation to ensure the longevity of collections, as well as raise awareness of audio collections and promoting engagement. To list to some of Scotland’s audio heritage, click here.

Jute Mill Song

I thoroughly enjoyed listening the Jute Mill Song amongst the hubbub of the SLF exhibition.

Go Industrial Museum Collective

As well as a hearing about a range of exciting projects, the Scottish Learning Festival also offered the opportunity to chat to a host of learning professionals who were promoting their learning programmes and resources on stalls within the heritage village. One which caught my eye was the Go Industrial Museum Collective. This group consists of museums preserving Scotland’s industrial heritage and includes museums such as Verdant Works, Scottish Maritime Museum and New Lanark (to name just a few). One member, the National Mining Museum, are integrating digital learning into their learning programme through STEM workshop “Crafting the Mine”, which uses digital learning to engage pupils with STEM. Within the game Minecraft, pupils can explore the Lady Victoria Colliery and compete against each other to collect the most coal. Watch a film exploring the Crafting the Mine project and creating the Minecraft environment here.

There were yet more stallholders and projects exploring the possibilities of digital technology in a heritage learning context, including HES exploring virtual reality and the National Trust for Scotland, who own the immersive game experience at the Battle of Bannockburn. The Scottish Learning Festival presented visitors with the range of digital heritage experiences, and made salient the variety of digital heritage projects being undertaken across Scotland’s heritage landscape.

Digital Cultural Heritage

Over the past month we have hosted a series of blogs from former undergraduate students of St Andrews. Courtenay Elle Critchton-Turley (2012), Matthew Moran (2013), Melody Wentz (2014) and Sophia Mirashrafi (2016) are just a few of our students who have gone on to undertake postgraduate degrees in archaeology/museum studies/conservation. In this series of posts, they have discussed their work and how it relates to material culture, digitisation and accessibility. In our final blog in this series, Sophia Mirashrafi explores her experience of Digital Cultural Heritage and it’s relation to archaeology.

After graduating from my degree in Medieval History and Archaeology at St Andrews and working closely with the Bridges Collection itself, I chose to peruse an MSc in Digital Heritage at the University of York. During this course, I completed classes including Cultural Heritage Management, Virtual Reality Modelling, and Working on the Web, all of which have given me opportunities to study and implement different aspects of digital media within the archaeological and heritage field.

I underwent a brief placement at L-P Archaeology in London where I was tasked with downloading one of their websites into static HTML (a webpage that displays the same information to all users) in order to preserve their data. It was certainly a crash course in learning how to negotiate the command line (code which is used to interact with a computer programme), and become literate in HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets, how HTML is displayed in a webpage). During this placement, it became evident that placing data online does not equate to saving it forever. In fact, there are digital archivists who work to save data and sites which become obsolete. If you’re interested in this, explore the ArchiveTeam, whose programmers work as literal digital archaeologists, digging through the web in order to save its history.

My master’s thesis focused on the design, construction, and evaluation of a digital group experience which took place at the site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey. It was done through end-user focused methods, resulting in my creation of group personas based on the study of visitor demographics collected on site, to aid in group experience design.

In the first wave of digital applications in museums, experiences seem to have been geared towards the individual rather than the group, evident in the wide use of headphones and small screens to learn from. To encourage social interaction, I worked to use digital platforms as a tool to learning, rather than allowing the technology to drive the interaction.

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Two participants testing the digital experience on-site for evaluation (Photo courtesy of EMOTIVE, 2017).

By the end of my project, myself and a team of programmers and heritage professionals created a digital experience which took place in the reconstructed replica houses at Çatalhöyük. The primary aim of this digital experience was to encourage the visitors to explore how the society of Çatalhöyük may have functioned.

The experience provides visitors with 3D printed Neolithic artefacts, which they personalise as their own, before being guiding as a group through the replica houses, where they are prompted by a mobile application to participate in physical trade and leave those artefacts behind. By going through the motions of trading and leaving behind objects, participants are asked to question modern assumptions around material ownership and community.

The project is run in conjunction with EMOTIVE, an EU-funded heritage project which works to utilize emotional storytelling to change how heritage sites are experienced by both visitors and the heritage professional alike. I was able to work closely with the team, and attend workshops in both Athens and Glasgow. During the workshops, we explored how user-centric methodologies and digital technologies can be implemented to create emotional responses in heritage contexts.

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Presenting at an EMOTIVE workshop in Glasgow, brainstorming ideas to use digital technologies to spark emotion in heritage contexts. (Photo courtesy of EMOTIVE, 2017)

Overall, perhaps ironically, studying digital heritage has taught me that digital platforms are not the saviour of heritage and archaeology. When too heavily relied upon, they can become more of a hindrance than a help. While technologies, in particular mobile technologies, open opportunities of archaeological dissemination and interpretation, they should not be placed on too high a pedestal. If applications are not used as a tool in which to further understanding, willing to take a back seat to the artefacts and site itself, there is a danger of the technology hindering the experience of the visitors rather than improving it. That being said, when wielded correctly, there are so many ways to utilise technology in the heritage sphere to aid in the dissemination and understanding of the past.

What’s next for me? Excellent question. At the moment, I am learning my next coding language (Python) and working on the next steps of the group experience with EMOTIVE. Without my time at St Andrews I would never have had found an interest in digital heritage, or had the amazing experiences and opportunities I have had since leaving. I look forward to my next visit and whatever lies ahead!

The Conservation Benefits of 3D Scanning

Over the past month we have hosted a series of blogs from former undergraduate students of St Andrews. Courtenay Elle Critchton-Turley (2012), Matthew Moran (2013), Melody Wentz (2014) and Sophia Mirashrafi (2016) are just a few of our students who have gone on to undertake postgraduate degrees in archaeology/museum studies/conservation. In this series of posts, they have discussed their work and how it relates to material culture, digitisation and accessibility. Below, Melody Wentz explores her work in conservation since leaving St Andrews and it’s relation to 3D digitisation. 

Following my studies at St Andrews, I moved to London to attend University College London for an Object Conservation degree. In 2016, I completed an MA in the Principles of Conservation which focused on the theories and ethics of practice. I am currently completing an MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, which provides the practical experience to become a qualified object conservator. The primary aim of conservation is the preservation of movable heritage enabling study, display and access for the public. My current work does not involve the use of 3D scanning, but its growing significance as a conservation tool allows me to recognise its conservation benefits to the Bridges Collection. Conservation uses digitisation to increase access to collections that are otherwise inaccessible, simultaneously ensuring the safety of objects.

I find the Through a Glass Darkly project particularly exciting because it puts my research and studies into practice, with the clear aim of digitising the collection for wider student and public access. This provide obvious benefits for archaeology, including increased access for researchers, and the availability for students to study Cypriot styles.

While not initially a core aim of the project, 3D scanning of the collection successfully enlists preventive conservation. As the project has developed, 3D digitisation of the objects has become central. This project is creating preventive conservation measures for the Bridges Collection. Preventive conservation operates on the assumption that 10 agents of deterioration can threaten the stability of objects. These include: fire, water, pests, incorrect temperature, incorrect relative humidity, light, pollution, physical force, vandalism/theft, and dissociation/neglect. Preventive conservation strives to mitigate potential risk or damage to the object without involving physical intervention. For example, increased access usually brings increased risk to the object: handling is a direct cause of damage by physical forces. 3D scanning involves a one-time handling session during scanning, yet any computer user is then able to virtually handle the object without risk to the object.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Photo taken while I participated in a condition survey of the wet specimens’ store room at the Grant Museum of Zoology. 

Furthermore, through 3D scanning the project is digitally cataloging the condition of each object in the collection. Condition surveys are a common task in the successful maintenance of a collection. They collect information on an object and its current condition, enabling a reference for future examination. This source will reveal if the object is deteriorating and becoming unstable over time, thus determining if conservation work is needed. Throughout my studies at UCL I have taken part in several condition surveys of collections and have experienced the difficulty of consistency in condition assessment. One such survey took place over several weeks and involved the aid of multiple volunteers. Typically, this is done in a spreadsheet documenting object description, accession number, condition, and conservation needed. A common system used for condition is a number scale of 1-4: good, fair, poor, bad. Inevitably, estimations based on this scale are highly subjective and vary; difficulty arises in the future when the survey is reviewed to assess an object’s condition over time. 3D imaging is a fantastic opportunity to create a non-subjective condition survey whereby it is possible to refer back to past condition through precision photography. It provides a truer report than any written description ever will.

It is wonderful to be able to apply my current work to past studies. I recall using the Bridges Collection for lessons in object handling, and a reference for Cycladic ceramics. It is great to see it put to more use with numerous benefits to the collection. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute.

More information on topics discussed:

Information on preventive conservation, Canadian Conservation Institute, agents of deterioration: http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1444330943476

3D scanning in conservation: Payne provides a thorough account of imaging techniques in conservation: https://www.jcms-journal.com/articles/10.5334/jcms.1021201/

Smithsonian’s use of 3D scanning in their imaging studio: https://www.si.edu/MCIImagingStudio/3DTechnologies

South Georgia: The Advantage of 3D Survey Scans

Over the next couple of months we are particularly pleased to host a series of blogs from former undergraduate students of St Andrews. Courtenay Elle Critchton-Turley (2012), Matthew Moran (2013), Melody Wentz (2014) and Sophia Mirashrafi (2016) are just a few of our students who have gone on to undertake postgraduate degrees in archaeology/museum studies/conservation. In this series of posts, they will discuss their work and how it relates to material culture, digitisation and accessibility.

Matthew Moran graduated from the School of Classics in 2013. He went on to complete an MLitt in Museum and Gallery Studies and graduated in 2014 with a distinction in his dissertation. Matthew has since worked in a number of museums, including what must be one of the most remote examples in the world: South Georgia Museum. We hear from Matthew how important laser scanning has become for the island.

South Georgia

South Georgia

South Georgia is a remote and mountainous sub-Antarctic island 900 miles west of the Falkland Islands and 900 miles northwest of the Antarctic peninsula. The island is around 100 miles long and between 3-20 miles wide, with no permanent resident population other than a few million seals and penguins – just a team of scientists, support crew, government officers and heritage workers, whose total number can be as few as 7 in the winter before burgeoning up to 35 in the summer with visiting researchers. My own journey required an 18 hour RAF flight to the Falkland’s Mount Pleasant with a refueling stop at the equator on Ascension Island, before a four day sail to Grytviken, South Georgia.

South Georgia Museum

Figure 1 South Georgia Museum in front of Mount Hodges. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Despite being one of the most inaccessible places on the planet, a flourishing Antarctic tourism industry means the island receives over 70 visits from cruise ships and over 8,000 day-visitors during the milder summer months. On every visit each vessel must call at the port of entry at Grytviken and King Edward Point, so a visit to the local museum is almost compulsory for all new arrivals, often inundating the museum with 100 to 200 visitors at a time.

The South Georgia Museum is housed in the 100 year old wooden villa on the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken. The museum is maintained to an excellent but low-tech standard. There are no interactive or digital exhibits, beyond TV screens and CD players – but this is deliberate: internet access is limited to a satellite link shared by the whole island, whose bandwidth is equivalent to a slow dial-up connection. Often the radar dome is covered with snow, or there’s extensive cloud cover, or it just drops out for weeks at a time, leaving the island with no internet connectivity at all, and even if the museum did purchase a swanky digital interactive, at the first inevitable failure the required expertise or spare parts could take six months or more to reach the island at eye-watering cost.

Add to this the fact that Antarctic cruises start at around £10,000 per person, South Georgia’s human heritage seems disastrously inaccessible to all but the most energetic and wealthy individuals. However, this is not the case. Firstly, despite the enormous inconvenience of using a web-based Collections Management System with such a poor connection, all accessioned items are uploaded onto eHive. EHive allows the public to view all the museum’s collection online and browse at their leisure. This is the best way to increase accessibility to the collection on an extremely limited budget and was a conscious decision to try and give the collection greater exposure.

Furthermore, for the last few years the South Georgia Government in partnership with the Norwegian Government, has been working with New Zealand based company Geometria to conduct 3D laser surveys of the island’s dwindling human heritage.  A tripod-mounted laser scanner rotates around an axis while firing off a laser, retrieving data on a time delay (dependent on distance) as well as colour. Multiple scans are taken from an area and combined into a data map containing millions or billions of data points which are reconstructed into 3D space.

There were around six whaling stations operating on the island between 1904 and 1965, all of which have now been scanned. The elements have taken their toll and they are now rapidly disintegrating into nothing. So much has been lost already, such as the Grytviken cinema, which slowly folded in on itself until it completely collapsed in the early 2000s. Bjorn L Basberg’s excellent archaeological survey, conducted in the 1990s and published in 2004, is already out-of-date, so quickly are the structures disappearing.

South Georgia cinema

Figure 2 Grytviken cinema in the early 1990s. Now nothing remains but concrete foundations. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, even to visitors to the island, the whaling stations are strictly off limits with the exception of Grytviken – asbestos is ubiquitous, structures are on the verge of collapse, and in high winds ‘flying tin’ can seriously injure or kill the unwary.

This is where these high resolution colour 3D survey scans come into their own. Not only are they an amazing resource for future research, a snapshot of a vanishing landscape, they also allow the general public a real glimpse of something truly inaccessible. A selection of the finished renderings were put on display in a gallery adjacent to the museum in 2015, so that visitors to the island could get a real sense of the island’s unreachable human heritage. They are set in the landscape: the visitor can get a sense of the stations as they fit in the surrounding area, with vast looming hills and snow-covered moss adding to the sense of loneliness and isolation which is so important to any interpretation of human presence on South Georgia.

See one of the 3D survey scans of Leith Harbour Whaling Station here.

Hidden Stories: 3D Techniques as tools for exploring Archaeological Assemblages

Over the next couple of months we are particularly pleased to host a series of blogs from former undergraduate students of St Andrews. Courtenay Elle Critchton-Turley (2012), Matthew Moran (2013), Melody Wentz (2014) and Sophia Mirashrafi (2016) are just a few of our students who have gone on to undertake postgraduate degrees in archaeology/museum studies/conservation. In this series of posts, they will discuss their work and how it relates to material culture, digitisation and accessibility.

In this post we hear from Courtenay-Elle Crichton-Turley who graduated from St Andrews in Ancient History and Archaeology in 2012. Since then, Courtenay has been undertaking a PhD in archaeology and computing. We were delighted to present together in the same panel entitled ‘HIDDEN STORIES. 3D TECHNIQUES AS TOOLS FOR EXPLORING ARCHAEOLOGICAL ASSEMBLAGES’ at the EAA (European Association of Archaeology) conference in Maastricht on Thursday 31st August. The conference runs from 30th August through to 3rd September.

For blog

Since leaving St Andrews, I have continued studying and working in archaeology, and am currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Sheffield in Archaeology and Computer Science. Before this I completed an MA in European Prehistory at the Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, focusing on disability in prehistory.

My PhD research focusses on documenting, classifying and contextualising London post medieval pipe clay figurines during the 1500-1800 centuries, combined with analysing the potential for the employment of 3D imaging technology for figurine and mould matching using this dataset. Taken together this will provide a new avenue for understanding figurine production and distribution, especially adding insight into pipe clay figurine mould generations. The primary basis of my dataset are the post-medieval pipe clay figurines from London, a previously unexplored collection of artefacts, with secondary datasets that broaden the scope of the research, for comparative and distribution analysis, to the rest of the UK, the east coast of America, and Europe.

Outcomes of this research aim to provide key information concerning contextual trends present in the production and use of pipe clay figurines. This includes the presence of aspirational motifs or imitation replicas; distribution mapping of both the figurines in general and certain iconographical trends; investigating the contextual significance in relation to societal factors; colonialism; and the rise of mass production that will offer discussion on contemporary societal frameworks.

Developing my 3D modelling skills during this thesis has taken me down many new research avenues including working on the Gaiamycota project with Professor Dunc Cameron from the Department of Animal and Plants Sciences, University of Sheffield, and sculptor Anthony Bennett. This multi disciplinary project ‘reflects on the state of “what remains of the soil” of our planet…its acute predicament, and foretells of a method to address this’.  Other projects I have been working on also includes a collaboration with the artist Yinka Shonibare MBE and the Royal Academy of Art, which will be released in December, so stay tuned for that project.

Alongside the PhD and research projects I have also developed a departmental outreach scheme called Archaeology in the City which provides local schools and the general public a chance to get hands on with archaeology and share local research that the department has been undertaking. This has been a wonderful opportunity over the last 3 years which has brought about a series of permanent archaeological fixtures such as The Woodland Heritage Festivals held each May at Ecclesall Woods Discovery Centre in Sheffield, and Archaeology and Ale, a free monthly archaeological talk series held in the local favourite archaeology pub, with the talks uploaded afterwards on the Archaeology Podcast Network! I am also the student representative on the council for the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, a position I have held for almost 2 years.

When Summer gets here the laptop is pushed aside and procrastination in the form of excavation arrives. I have had a series of fantastic opportunities to supervise on a range of sites, both abroad and here in the UK, including most notably three summers spent on the Thornton Abbey Project run by Dr Hugh Willmott of the University of Sheffield. This was a fascinating site to work upon with some ground breaking discoveries such as a mass Black Death grave, medieval hospital, and a priest with pewter chalice burial and ornate grave slab. The Priest burial, otherwise known as Richard de W’Peton, also appeared as a special feature in Current Archaeology, where you can see some of my 3D analysis employed to highlight trauma on Richard’s skull (you can also see this 3D model on my Sketchfab page).

Finally I have also just recently become an Associate Tutor at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, where come September I’ll be lecturing both Undergraduates and Master Students on a range of Archaeology and Heritage modules. So wish me luck with this!

So in conclusion I suppose it has been a busy few years since graduating from St Andrews, but I’ve never forgotten its sandy shores and the wonderful memories I have from there. I look forward to our paths once again crossing as we present together in the same session during the EAA in Maastricht!

Some useful links to topics discussed:

www.sketchfab.com/c_elle/models

www.archinthecity.wordpress.com

www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archandale/

www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/news/black-death-grave-thornton-abbey-1.664963

www.gaiamycota.wordpress.com/

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