University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Photogrammetry and Archaeology at MAA

Learning How to Look Project

A new project, Learning How to Look: Developing a Digital Teaching Collection, has recently begun at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). With the generous support of the University of Cambridge Learning and Teaching Innovation Fund, MAA will create a Digital Teaching Collection that will support teaching of the University’s ARC1 (Introduction to World Archaeology) course and provide wider, online access to the Museum’s collections.

The Teaching and Collections Assistant, Eleanor Wilkinson, will create 3D, rotatable and zoomable photogrammetric models of key object-types. These will range from Egyptian shabtis to Medieval tiles, Roman brooches to figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. The 3D models will be accompanied by up-to-date information on their origins, material, context, and historical significance.

In consultation with the Division of Archaeology Eleanor has created long-lists of objects that link to core themes of the ARC1 course. These topics illustrate patterns in human origins, complex societies and the emergence of empires.

What is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry in the Keyser Workroom at MAA

Image 1: Photogrammetry in the Keyser Workroom at MAA

Photogrammetry is the process of turning a series of 2D images into a 3D model. This technique uses software to map the shape or contour of an object by comparing multiple photographs. It has many varied applications from topographic mapping to 3D modelling.

At MAA objects are placed on a turntable in a light box and a photograph is taken at least every 45°, at varying heights [Image 1]. This allows for every area of the object to appear in multiple separate photographs, creating an overlap in the images.

These photographs are then fed into Photoscan software and – with a bit of tweaking – a 3D, full-colour model is produced [Image 2].

The shabti, processed in Photoscan, in 3D form

Image 2: The shabti, processed in Photoscan, in 3D form

Remote learning

Eleanor has started work by selecting an extensive list of objects in consultation with lecturers of ARC1. This selection process has resulted in nearly 50 objects being noted for photogrammetry.

Once the creation of the 3D models is complete they will be available through a website designed with mobile devices in mind. This will allow them to be incorporated into traditional teaching, as well as being accessible to study outside the classroom, and used by widening participation projects. This educational resource will both supplement hands-on practicals for all Cambridge archaeology students and connect wider audiences with the Museum’s collections.

Eleanor Wilkinson, Teaching and Collections Assistant, MAA

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