Students Use 3D Printing Technology to Interact with Ancient Greek Artifacts at Victoria University of Wellington’s Classics Museum
One of the most important rules that children have drilled into their heads before museum field trips is to not touch the exhibits. But in recent years, 3D scanning and 3D printing technology has helped abolish this rule, and now all sorts of important artifacts and exhibits, from dinosaur fossils and mummies to famous paintings and sculptures, are able to be replicated and handled by researchers and students. The Classics Museum at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand is home to a small collection of Greek and Roman artifacts, and one of the university’s lecturers is using the technology to allow her students to interact with some of these ancient objects.
Dr. Diana Burton, a senior lecturer with the university’s School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, has been working with the School of Design to take digital scans of several of the museum’s artifacts and 3D printing them, so her students can have “practical experiences” with the objects.
“In Greek art, pretty much everything is functional—they don’t really have art for art’s sake. In order for students to really get to grips with the way the use of an object has informed its design and decoration, they need to be able to use it and handle it in the ways the ancients did. 3-D printing objects is a safe way to facilitate this,” Dr. Burton explained.
3D scanning and 3D printing the artifacts for her students is just the first step: Dr. Burton hopes to create an online 3D gallery of the objects in the museum, similar to the British Museum’s gallery, which now includes the first published 3D scan of the ancient Rosetta Stone.
“Museums are increasingly looking at 3-D technology as a way of making their collections available,” said Dr. Burton. “We’ve scanned almost 30 pieces that we want to make available on the website—having an interactive 3-D image allows the viewer to interact and see how the whole design functions.”
First things first: Dr. Burton and her students 3D printed, and played with, an ancient Greek drinking vessel called a kylix. 3D printing this particular vessel has proven a good way to teach today’s university students about the drinking games of yesteryear, among other valuable lessons.
Dr. Burton explained, “We have a collection of ancient pottery in the Museum and one of the shapes is a shallow bowl with a stem and handles. The ancient Greeks used it in a drinking game where they held the handle and flicked the dregs of the wine at a target. So we filled them with water and had the students engage with the object in the way it was designed by the Greeks.”
Then the students got to design their own amphora (storage jars), by using a template to draw black figure illustrations by hand. Then, their drawings were digitally scanned and mapped onto an amphora design in a 3D software program.
“The students had to illustrate the amphora with an appropriate Greek myth. It needed to fit into their personal story and social content, the same way the Greeks did with their decorations,” said Dr. Burton.
Bernard Guy, a university lecturer on Industrial Design, and Zach Challies, a Master of Design Innovation graduate, were in charge of guiding the student amphora project. Challies, whose specialty is high-end, multi-property 3D printing, designed the template, digitized the designs for 3D modeling, and worked with the designs in the program to make sure they would correctly print as full-color objects.
Isaac Bennett-Smith, one of Dr. Burton’s students, said, “Coming up with a design for the amphora was great fun—it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing an assignment. I really enjoyed the hands-on aspect. I think it was a really good way to learn. It doesn’t completely replace writing but it would be a bit naïve to assume writing is the only way we can communicate ideas. It’s really good to incorporate that visual literacy into subjects like Classics.”
Five lucky students had their amphora designs 3D printed by online 3D printing service provider Shapeways. The five winning designs illustrated more modern stories than the original Greek amphorae did, like the 2009 earthquake and tsunami in Samoa, and about financial difficulties. The creative, educational project was obviously invaluable to the students, Dr. Burton, and the two project guides, and is a great example of how “students and academic researchers can work towards a 3-D printing enabled university.”
“It’s fantastic to see ancient culture and items that are thousands of years old meet the digital future. It’s not an obvious meeting, but one that resulted in a valuable experience for the School of Design and tangible learning tools for the Classics programme,” said Guy. “3-D printing allows the unexpected to become reality—it opens avenues to tell entirely new stories, make entirely new discoveries, and to truly unlock the possibilities of the digital age. We’re interested in finding other areas of the University where 3-D printing could become an effective teaching or learning tool.”
To hear some of the participating students talk about their 3D printed amphora designs, check out the video below from Victoria University of Wellington:
Discuss in the Classics Museum forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: Phys.org / Images: Phys.org unless otherwise noted]
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