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Reading and recording cult objects using laser scanning

Ian explains how to use laser scanning in the reading and recording of cult objects.
One of the very enjoyable projects that I’ve had the privilege of leading recently is the Newcastle University Digital Heritage Project. As part of that, we are doing an extensive body of laser scanning. A wide range of important Roman monuments from the northern frontier. I’m here with John McCarthy of Wessex Archaeology, who has provided much of the lead expertise in the use of the Artec Eva aspect of the scanning. And, John how’s that going for you so far? Well, we’ve been using this. This is the Artec Eva here. It’s a very small device, very lightweight. It’s like a whisk or a kettle. The advantage of using this is it’s an entirely portable scanner.
We can get in around all the different sides of the monuments. In the museum setting, there’s very little space to move, and it’s very difficult to move things which are nailed to the wall, in some cases. So we can get in around every angle. This operates quite well at a range of about a metre distance from the objects. It’s the best tool for the job in this case. We have a wide range of different technologies that we can use for a job like this, but this has proven to be extremely effective. So a very, very handy tool on site. But, of course, the initial data capture is one thing.
One thing that is too readily forgotten, perhaps, is just how much post-processing could be involved in laser scanning. How’s that side of it going? Well, the post-processing takes slightly longer than the data capture. You need to use a powerful computer. It’s a mixture of automated and manual processing.
We’ve processed about half of the data we’ve captured so far. It’s a question of taking scans from different angles, aligning them with each other, creating a continuous surface around the whole object. Where there’s parts of a monument we haven’t been able to capture, we have to fill in those gaps manually. And then a texture has to be applied to the whole surface to give you a feeling of what it looks like in reality. And all of that can take anywhere between an hour to a couple of days, depending on how much data we’ve scanned. It’s worth also, I think, emphasising then where you can go with that scan, of course.
Because on the one hand you are generating a 3D digital model that could be used as a presentation piece. But it’s not simply a device for creating a digital model. It actually has an interrogative aspect, one could say, as well, doesn’t it. The technology allows us to really ask questions of the object. Yes. So you can use it for a basic survey of the object as it stands as a record of its preservation. But you also can also strip off the textures and you can apply different surface renders to draw our some detailed minor variations in the surface of the object– small inscriptions, cracks, areas of wear. So it’s very effective from that point of view.
You can also do things like take scans at different points in time and use those as a tool to monitor the decay of the object. You can compare the two scans very easily. And you can also then take those scans on to other things by putting them in interactive online formats, embedding them in PDF documents, and one of the most exciting things is 3D printing. This is something we’re also very much looking towards with Newcastle University Digital Heritage. We think that, quite clearly, the future of studying, researching, experiencing the past is digital.
And the capacity of scans such as the ones that John is doing here at Newcastle today are part of taking that forward in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in the public sphere.
Laser scanning allows objects to be recorded with sub-millimetre accuracy and in three dimensions.
The data generated can be used to produce high resolution digital models. This video examines the use of one particular type of laser scanner, the Artec Eva and its application by NU Digital Heritage to the reading and analysis of cult objects.
The two altars featured in this video are RIB 1776 to Belatucadrus and RIB 1695 to Sattada. Note that neither of these is particularly elaborate; their very simplicity reflects the extent to which the use of altars permeated frontier society, even those with few resources and with limited access to skilful stonemasons found it desirable to commemorate the fulfilment of their vows in stone.
Belatucadrus (also known as Blatucadrus and Baliticaurus) received several dedications in the Wall zone, but Sattada is only known from this one. It is this which makes a close examination of her altar so rewarding. And it does not just provide us with a unique reference to an otherwise unknown goddess, but also a reference to an otherwise unknown frontier community, the Textoverdi. This community, large enough to have its own assembly (curia Textoverdorvm) reminds us that there must have been many other small civilian groups whose names, not even preserved on a single humble altar, are now lost to us.
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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

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