One of the problems of traditional museum displays is that only one face of an object can usually be seen. Experiments with mirrors can occasionally allow the reverse of an object to be viewed, but such mechanisms are usually only partially successful. Modern technology, in the form of 3D scanning, is making analysis of an entire object easier, and particularly so away from the museum where people can engage with objects on their phones, tablets and PCs for free.
Initial experiments with 3D scanning at The Collection have been very successful, and I hope its something we’ll continue to do more of in the future. Our early attempts have been with stone carvings, but smaller objects are ripe for such treatment, though smaller objects do require more expensive 3D scanning equipment. Below are some gifs of these scans – apologies if all the spinning makes you feel funny!
While recording objects in detail is fantastically useful (and I have plans to scan some of our more worn stone inscriptions to see if more detail can be added to our reading of them), 3D technology also enables us to go a step further and to start to reconstruct the missing elements of incomplete objects. Our initial foray into this area happened following the discovery of the torso of a white marble bull at the north of Lincoln a couple of years ago. The bull is first or second century AD in date, but sadly we can’t say with certainty that it was used in Roman Lincoln – the possibility that it represents a later ‘Grand Tour’ import can’t be discounted. Nevertheless, Roman marble is very unusual in Britain, and we decided to try and recreate how the bull might have looked.
The torso was scanned and 3D printed, and we employed an artist to sculpt the missing head and legs, using ancient bull sculpture from across the Roman world as inspiration. Although obviously hypothetical, the reconstruction certainly brings the object to life. The completed reconstruction was 3D scanned and printed again to provide a robust model that can be displayed alongside the original. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll start selling them in the shop so you can all have little Roman bulls sitting on your mantlepieces. What’s certain is that the potential for this sort of project to help interpret the Roman world is set to grow exponentially in future.