Last night I attended a lecture by Stuart Jeffrey from the Glasgow School of Art about the digital modeling of archaeological sites, structures, and artefacts. Using various technologies (often but not always involving lasers), we can create 3D models of an object and then (in the case of artefacts) use a 3D printer to make a replica.
This is huge. I know it’s been around for a while, and there’s a lot of debate about the finer points, but from a research perspective, it’s huge.
First, if we can create 3D models using lasers, we can get up close and personal with the object, zoom in and out, and really investigate the structure without having to necessarily handle the object (which always leads to deterioration in some form). It also lets us really zoom in on small objects (like beads!) in a way that we really couldn’t before. It also lets us do things like zoom inside places we couldn’t get to before (like the perforation of a bead) and really understand the way these objects were made.
Second, we can use the data on the digital modeling to explore the object in ways we could never do so before. If I want to look at a glass object, one thing I might try to look at are the bubbles in the glass. Bubbles tell us the structure of the glass, how it was made, and can possibly help us source the object back to the workshop or region where it was made. In order to see the bubbles, I have to look through the glass. This is not so bad if you have transparent glass or maybe even translucent glass, but try seeing the bubbles in opaque glass. Hint, you can’t.
But with this digital modeling technology, we can tell the program to eliminate all the data reflecting glass and only look at the data reflecting the bubbles. We can essentially turn off the glass and look only at this model of what is honestly air, distinguished only by the fact that it’s held in those pockets by the surrounding glass. We can literally see into the glass.
And then, we can use those models to print replicas using a 3D printer. This is useful not just for beads, but for anything we might want to replicate in archaeology – statues, fragile objects, valuable objects, the list goes on.
And the cool thing is, you can supposedly create simple 3D models using some fancy software and your iPhone. Guess what I’m doing this weekend?