3D Greek digital photographic library allows researchers to piece together remnants of the past

Athenian Vase Painting (Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Photo courtesy of SDSU Newcenter

Athenian Vase Painting (Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

by Nakia Richardson, Staff Writer

In a tech-savvy world, SDSU’s Classics department is adopting more innovative means in which students can take a look at ancient artifacts – without having to travel thousands of miles across the globe.

“Some of the most important pieces are sherds … there’s one piece in New York, four pieces in Florence, two pieces in Paris in the Louvre,” Dr. Danielle Bennett, a professor in the Humanities department said. “3D design is going to bring them all together in the digital library.”

As a child, Bennett said she had a love for studying the ancient world and always wanted to know more about the lives of those who lived in archaic times. After obtaining her bachelors from the University of Missouri, Columbia and both her Masters and PhD in classical and near eastern archaeology from Bryn Mawr College, she said she discovered just how little we all know about the past.

“Most of the pottery that is found in excavations and are broken – we don’t have the entire story,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the problem with museums is they have thousands of broken pottery sherds in the back and not on display. Many pieces have been sold through markets or have been separated by the researchers themselves and placed in multiple museums worldwide.

With this in mind, she said her goal is to document each sherd found, place all of them in a database and allow observers to search for connections.

Professor Elizabeth Pollard, associate professor of history said most of what we see in museums are not what most people in ancient Rome and Greece would have used on a daily basis. They are the remnants of the rich or the elite.

“It’s extremely innovative what she’s doing – taking computational photography – what’s not neat, not the most beautiful and taking things that aren’t museum-worthy quality and putting them all together,” Pollard said.

Computational (metric) photography or photogrammetry, according to the National Geo-Spatial Information of the Republic of South Africa, is the process of using pictures to obtain measurements that record the shape, position and size of the object being analyzed. It is also commonly used to obtain coordinates of locations.

Once Bennett gets a grant approval from the Dean’s office, her first step is to take lots of pictures from different angles. After that, engineers will compile all of the photos and, with specialized computer software, make all photos 3D.

Bennett said the user can see the manufacturing directions of the artifact, how it was painted, what needed to be drawn and how it tells a story. Her colleague, professor Pollard said it can also show fingerprints from 2500 years ago along with multiple other details and stories that cannot be seen with the naked eye – all soon to be accessible from Love library.

“You can turn the objects over and see what is on the bottom of the 3D models and connect it to the 3D printer,” Bennett said. “You can print your own greek vase.”

Bennett said her hope is, once the project is complete, it can be used in the classroom setting and for research purposes. Students would get to work hands-on with the library and participate in photogrammetry composition – a skill that can be put on a resume.

“Students creating digital projects get hands-on experience,” Pollard said. “This will bring attention to the innovative quality of the university.”

A previous version of this story misspelled Elizabeth Pollard’s last name in the eighth paragraph. The Daily Aztec regrets this error.