Photograph by Mike Miriello ('09M)
Advancing Culture

Ready for their close-ups

Hundreds of ancient artifacts at JMU are candidates for 3D scanning

An array of ancient artifacts, some dating back 12,000 years to the late Stone Age, are lining up for 21st century digitization to expand their value as teaching tools.

The objects are part of the Madison Art Collection, a repository for over 10,000 artifacts, including sculptures, coins, icons and other works of art, bequeathed to JMU. Most of the collection’s holdings are two-dimensional objects, but about 1,000 pieces are candidates for 3D scanning, according to Wren River Stevens (’96, ’99M), director of the collection and the Lisanby Museum, where exhibitions from the permanent collection are displayed.

Stevens and Kevin Hegg, director of digital projects and pedagogy in JMU Libraries and Educational Technologies, collaborated to start the scanning process. Earlier experimentation with scanning did not pan out. But with advances in 3D scanning technology, Hegg and Stevens have begun to make the prized teaching resource accessible to students of all ages. The curators aim to make the entire collection available online, where visitors can interact with detailed 3D renderings like never before.

Madison Art Collection staff compare an ancient artifact to its 3D rendering.
(Photo: Mike Miriello ('09M))

So far, about 30 Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near Eastern artifacts — among the most-requested pieces in the collection for study — have been scanned with remarkable accuracy. Some have been further processed in 3D printers to create facsimiles, using various exotic resins. As both scanning and printing technologies continue to improve, artifacts can be given new life in classrooms of all kinds.

Learn more about the ongoing digitization project in the Spring/Summer issue of Madison.

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