Reintegrating dispersed collections of ancient Cypriot glass and faience in virtual spaces

Ms Kellie Youngs1

1School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, kelliey@unimelb.edu.au

 

MOTIVATION

This presentation is about a pilot project that has developed as an ancillary activity of my core PhD project on: The Transmission and Innovation of Faience and Glass Technologies of Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age. While examining widely dispersed collections of Cypriot glass and faience objects in London, Stockholm, and on Cyprus to compare composition and morphology and collate the various locations and dating data of objects, it occurred to me that the eResearch tools available to me could provide much more than just the repository for a novel searchable database of 3D scanned objects and their physical characteristics.  The digital imagery and the meta-data could also be considered as an excellent pilot dataset for both scientific analysis in a broader, comparative context and as a way of bringing together objects from tightly-held collections from across the globe that have not been assembled in one place since they came out of the ground over a period of more than a hundred years, and as is more often the case, since they went into the ground several thousand years ago.

BACKGROUND

Society on Cyprus during the Protohistoric Bronze Age (1750/1700-1100/1050 BCE) went through significant and rapid changes, many of which are imperfectly understood.  Building on an agro-pastoral economic base, Cypriots extended their society into a more industrial, town-centered way of life that was more stratified and international in outlook (Webb 2005).  Scholars emphasise the development of the copper industry as the major contributing factor to the accelerated growth of the Cypriot economy, as it was ushered into the prominent and extensive system of international trade in the eastern Mediterranean (Knapp 2013, 416).  However, many interrelated questions of identity remain, particularly regarding the formation of social, political, and economic entities, as well as migration, integration, materiality, and connectivity.  To illuminate these processes of change, I am surveying the import, manufacture, and use of two luxury materials, glass, and faience, in Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age to provide a material context for the examination of power relations.

To contribute to these larger points of discussion, my research project commenced with an examination of the production and dissemination of glass and faience necessitating travel to Cyprus, Sweden, and Britain to examine and scan objects in museum collections.  Many of the objects in these collections were found during excavations in Cyprus undertaken eighty to one hundred and twenty years ago (Murray, Smith and Walters 1900, SCE 1934), when ‘division of finds’ practices saw many objects removed directly from the excavated site to overseas museums at the completion of each season.  The international dispersal of these artifacts causes difficulties for researchers including access to objects, understanding their lost context, and undertaking comparative analysis. Moreover, the manner of their dispersal resulted in many objects never being seen by a Cypriot person other than the local diggers who liberated them from the ground, or those with sufficient fortune and knowledge to travel overseas and find them in foreign collections, disconnecting this community from their own cultural heritage.

METHODS AND DISCUSSION

To create a curated collection of artifact scans and provide access for both researcher and visitor to a future virtual museum, this methodology can be divided into two main tasks: (1) scanning and recording objects and associated metadata and provenance, and (2) selecting and visualizing one or more objects at once.

Scanning

I created a collection of 3D images of key objects using a mid-range, consumer-grade 3D scanner that provides an object mesh and material texture layer.  Using the Matter and Form ™ scanner for my data acquisition had the benefits of being fast, inexpensive, and portable. It also posed some challenges and limitations regarding object size, shapes, and supports suitable for scanning, as well as a challenge to the perceptions of museum curators and collections staff before and after seeing scanner in action.

Visualizing

In consultation with the team at Monash Immersive Visualization Platform (MIVP), two solutions for visualizing my data, PreVis and EnCube, were identified to create a curated collection of artifact scans and provide access for both researcher and visitor to a future virtual museum. Utilizing PreVis, an eResearch workflow tool developed as an aggregation of other similar tools, I can prepare my captured data, load it for pre-visualization and then analysis, in a single workflow ready for visualization in CAVE2, Head-mounted VR, or on the Desktop. To examine objects individually, tag numbers are loaded on the CAVE iPad for viewing in LavaVU.  To view objects simultaneously in the CAVE, a batch of up to 80 objects can be loaded in EnCube.

A reintegrated collection of Cypriot glass and faience objects shown simultaneously in EnCube makes possible examination of a variety of characteristics of construction through activities such as altering the orientation of all objects to compare the types of bases applied.  It is also possible to refine our understanding of find contexts by looking at subsets of objects such as all objects from the site of Enkomi, or all the objects found in graves compared to those found in temples.

Future Work: My long-term goal is to make visualizations of this data available to the international research community and the public for community engagement projects.  An initial step has been to arrange a simultaneous VR teleconference with archaeologists and cultural heritage professionals at the Cyprus Institute – Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Center (STARC) in Nicosia.  This will be the first time Cypriot scholars will see these Cypriot objects all together, hopefully leading to ongoing international, cross-institutional, and interdisciplinary opportunities to collaboratively create and analyze a wider data set of Cypriot archaeological objects and to generate visualizations that convey more comprehensive perspectives of the material culture of the Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age.

REFERENCES

Gjerstad, Einar. 1934. The Swedish Cyprus Expedition : Finds and Results of the Excavations in Cyprus, 1927-1931, (SCE), Stockholm, Swedish Cyprus Expedition, 1934-1972.

https://ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00006a&AN=melb.b2137578&site=eds-live&scope=site

Knapp, A Bernard. 2013. The Archaeology of Cyprus : From Earliest Prehistory through the Bronze Age, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Webb, Jennifer. 2005. Ideology, Iconography and Identity: The role of foreign goods and images in the establishment of social hierarchy in Late Bronze Age Cyprus, in J. Clarke ed. Archaeological perspectives on the transmission and transformation of culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, Oxford, Oxbow Books, 176-182.

Murray, Alexander Stuart, Arthur Hamilton Smith, and Henry Beauchamp Walters. 1900. Excavations in Cyprus:(bequest of Miss ET Turner to the British Museum), London, Trustees of the British Museum


Biography:

Archaeologist and graduate researcher at the University of Melbourne, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies.

Research interests: Technological innovation and logistics in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean, the relationships between people and landscape, and the archaeology of conflict and commemoration.

Methodologies include 3D object imaging, spatial analyses, and the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to model logistical links between urban environs and landscape, and address archaeological questions.

Fieldwork undertaken in Australia and Cyprus.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Louise Hitchcock and Dr Andrew Jamieson

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