Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsOne of the big problems we have with the antler frontlets is that they are extremely fragile. It is therefore not possible to pick them up and try them on to see if they were used as headdresses. In order to find a way around this, and so that we could compare them all side by side, we started to create digital replicas which could be viewed on a screen, but also which could be printed out. The first frontlet we tried here at York was loaned to us by Scarborough Museums Trust for the day. We sat it on a rotating platform and set up appropriate, flat lighting, before taking over 200 photos of it from all possible angles with a standard DSLR camera.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 secondsHaving captured the images, we loaded them into a software programme called Agisoft Metashape, which uses the principles of photogrammetry to match common points between the photos to create 3D geometry. We masked out the background of each image to isolate the frontlets, making it easier for the software to align them. A “point cloud” is generated from the aligned photos, which we then cleaned and used to construct a mesh. This mesh gives the model its 3D geometry. Finally, a texture is created from our photos, and laid over the mesh. This process—known as “structure from motion”—produces a model which can be viewed and manipulated on screen. We repeated the workflow for the other frontlets that were not too fragile or compressed.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 secondsThese 3D models were then sent to a commercial company for 3D printing in order to make physical models. These models have proved invaluable for understanding how the frontlets might have been attached to people’s heads as well as enabling researchers to examine them close up and compare and contrast them. Eight of our models are now on display at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, if you want to go and see them. In addition, the Yorkshire Museum and the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough also have copies which they use in their teaching and are accessible to the public.

Digitising the headdresses

The fragility of the headdresses unfortunately means it is not possible to handle them once they have been conserved.

As a consequence we cannot test how they might have been worn so we have had to devise novel ways of replicating the artefacts. In this film, Neil Gevaux tells us how the team created a number of digital replicas which can then be printed in 3D for handling.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Exploring Stone Age Archaeology: The Mysteries of Star Carr

University of York

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: