Over the past few years, ISAS archaeologist John Lambert has been 3D scanning artifacts from the ISAS collections to make three-dimensional digital replicas of physical objects. To date, Lambert has digitized over 600 artifacts. Some of these 3D models have now been published in an interactive, digital gallery that is accessible online. Now you can inspect these archaeological finds from any angle, and zoom in for more detail all from a desktop or mobile device.
Read more about the process involved in 3D scanning archaeological collections and how Lambert and his team are putting 3D models of artifacts virtually at your fingertips.
Why create 3D models? How are they useful?
3D scanning serves several main purposes. First, ISAS doesn’t have a museum front end. Aside from a few display cases in the halls of the Nuclear Physics Lab and a collection that is on loan to the Spurlock Museum as part of their North American archaeology exhibit, the vast majority of ISAS collections are not on display. 3D scanning is a great tool for public outreach that allows us to make our collections much more accessible by sharing 3D models of artifacts online with the public. 3D models are also extremely useful for research purposes and can be easily shared with other archaeologists directly or via 3D printed replicas. They also lend themselves well to the analysis of fragile or fragmentary artifacts which are otherwise hard to study or measure using conventional methods. 3D scans also serve as digital “backups” of artifacts. This is especially crucial for fragile objects or collections.
How long does it take to create a model?
It depends on the artifact. Something small with a simple shape like a projectile point only takes 15-20 minutes total, with about 5 minutes to scan and 10 minutes to process the data into a finished model. Something large with more complicated geometry like a whole pot might still only take 5-10 minutes to scan, but could take a little over an hour total once you factor in more time to clean up data and run through the various processing steps.
What is the process of creating the models?
Artifacts are 3D scanned using an Artec Space Spyder, a handheld structured light scanner. The scanner simultaneously collects fine-grained geometric information and photography, and the two are combined into finished 3D models using specialized processing software.
Will these models be made available to the general public and/or educational use?
Yes, this gallery of Mississippian domestic archaeology will hopefully be the first of many. We plan to continue adding more 3D models to our web gallery that anyone can view directly in their web browser. We have been sharing 3D models of artifacts curated at ISAS with other archaeologists for over two years. This helps facilitate research using ISAS collections when researchers aren’t able to travel to Champaign or when artifacts themselves cannot be put on loan for research for one reason or another.
Will 3D models act as replacements for physical models?
3D models are extremely useful for research purposes, and open up avenues of research (e.g., 3D geometric morphometrics) that are not possible using conventional measurement on physical objects. However, they can never fully replace the study of physical artifacts. 3D scanning creates a very accurate representation of an artifact’s surface, but can’t capture internal features. 3D models also obviously can’t be used for things like chemical analysis, radiocarbon dating, or other things that require the original artifact.
How do you plan to build on this work in the future?
ISAS has incorporated 3D scanning as a regular part of our research and documentation of archaeological collections for over two years, and we will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. As I mentioned, we also plan to make much more of our collections publicly available via 3D models published online.