The Blandford collection of antiquities is held by the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthology and Archaeology. It was donated to the University by Dennis Blandford, a retired classics teacher, in 2014 and includes Greek and Roman artefacts, terracotta figures, pottery, bracelets, pins, roof tiles and fragments from Britain, Greece and Egypt. The collection has been used as a research and study collection ever since.
All parts of the University were impacted by Covid measures in fundamental ways. One particular challenge was how to carry out collections-based research and teaching when physical visits to campus became impossible. Ultimately there is no way to address this problem, but we have instigated several ways to lessen the potentially damaging impact.
One of the practical things they did was to 3D scan some well used items and collections, the Blandford Bequest was one of the first. They completed the scanning of approximately 50% of the collection of over 600 items in June 2021. They prioritized the most heavily used and the most unusual items. The scanning initial phase took a team of 3 people, armed with an Artec Space Spider, 6 days to complete.
The initial scanning phase involved data capture and transfer to a cloud server, they did no post processing. Reconstructing 3D depth came afterwards and took another 3 weeks. Artec Studio’s ‘autopilot’ feature worked very well.
Their delivery plan were twofold; firstly the full resolution models are available online for download from our university data repository www.databris.ac.uk. No log in is needed and the models are released under very permissive licenses to encourage uses the reuse the data in new and innovative ways.
Their second delivery model is via Virtual reality (VR). The VR platform we selected is Steamcommunity. A subset of the scanned items is presented in a virtual museum setting. Coding the environment in Valve Hammer took about a week. While the models available here are lower resolution (around 25% of full resolution) this is still very high for VR and only with today’s VR technology can we handle such large files in real time.
In the VR environment, a user finds two clipboards hold an inventory of all available items. The user then ‘requests’ a box of artefacts by pressing buttons on a rostrum. Users are free to manipulate, re-scale, recolor and sort items. The university is not aware of any other example of a museum or archive providing a virtual ‘working space’ in which to study 3D scanned items, but it’s proved very popular. They have been both happy and surprised by the popularity of the VR and have surpassed 1000 subscribers after just 10 days.
As Covid measures ease, feedback suggests their approach retains value and so they will continue development the concept further. They are now looking at opening of a virtual museum, with a changing programme of exhibitions. While the virtual reality environment will be persistent, exhibitions will range from digitized objects, 2D scanned images and even motion captured performances. Many shows will be curated by students as part of their studies. They remain very excited about the continued use of the Artec Space Spider for smaller objects and our recent purchase of an Artec Leo from Central Scanning will allow them to also scan larger structures and even whole rooms for use in VR.