Wednesday, 3 November 2010

3D Metal Detected Goodies Flying through the Air in Oxfordshire

Museum objects "go 3D digital" trumpets the UK's Culture24 website:
Visitors can watch spearheads from 1150BC and a 2,000-year-old stash of gold coins fly through the air in a 3D video display after technological whizzes shot close-up sequences of The Oxfordshire Museum’s collection of ancient artefacts and toyed with their backgrounds to superimpose the locations where they were originally found. Gold and enamel finger-rings and the nine-piece Grove hoard [...] have been repositioned against digital backgrounds, manipulated and rotated in a project by Rob Munday. “The brief was to produce an exciting and captivating display which held the attention and enabled the wonderful craftsmanship and detail of the objects to be fully appreciated,” explains Munday [...] Curator Cherry Gray said the innovation would allow the museum to highlight every nick and pattern of the precious display. “New technology has created exciting ways to bring objects to life, and for us to effortlessly enjoy the detail of tiny objects which would otherwise be missed,” she added.

So what are museums for? Are they places where the objects become a mere ancillary to (the source of) hi-tech multimedia displays? Of course the point is that since the latter can be widely disseminated, if that is how the past is to be "experienced" in the future, why have people coming to museums at all? Presumably I can get the 3d image of the whole Grove Hoard on a DVD to enjoy, make fly through the air in my living room. So why then can portable antiquity collectors not collect these? If these images allow the "wonderful craftsmanship and detail of the objects to be fully appreciated" and allow the highlighting of "every nick and pattern" of the subject?

What disturbs me however is that almost certainly every single object chosen for that hi-tech display was a metal detector find ("Highlights of the 3D special: Medieval brooches found in Radley and Cholsey, Two post-Medieval dress hooks which were discovered in Woodstock, Roman coins unearthed in Shellingford, A post-Medieval cosmetic set from West Hagbourne"). Once again the uncritical "unsung heroes of the heritage" model of artefact hunting and collecting gets another public boost.

A few days ago in discussing detectorists' excitement about "the depth advantage" I pointed out the scarring of the spectacular hilltop above Corfe Castle by metal detectorists slicing up the turf looking for collectable goodies below. I had a comment from a metal detectorist yesterday who said "I have a protective love of our countryside and if I thought I was damaging it in any way I would cease this hobby forthwith". Part of the charm of the English countryside is that it is rich with traces and signs of the history of those who inhabited and used it before us. This "power of place" is a value we should surely cherish and be protecting, not use it all up selfishly. Quite obviously artefact hunting is scarring and defacing the archaeological record which is an integral part of that history (this of course is not a quality restricted to the British countryside). Removing the object from that place removes part of the story of that place, irreparably damaging the "power of place" of that site to tell its story. It is therefore interesting to see that by using virtual media to represent the display of the object "in" the setting of the place where it was found, this exhibit emphasises the link between the isolated object and the landscape (and therefore archaeological) context from which it was removed. I bet though that the exhibit does not go that one step further and make the point that hoiking collectable geegaws out of those contexts for personal entertainment and profit should be discouraged (I'd be only too happy to be corrected on that).

Culture 24: 'Medieval treasures get 3D exposure as Oxfordshire Museum goes digital on collection', 28 October 2010.

Photo: A 3D anaglyph picture of a Shoe buckle (1650-1750) from The Oxfordshire Museum, which the public can now view in 3D on 24 inch tv screens using a pair of red-cyan anaglph glasses (24Culture, courtesy of technology company Holovision)

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