Recent developments in photogrammetry and 3D printing may be the saving grace for precious historical artefacts destroyed by militants and natural disasters.
The new technology, created by PhD students Chance Coughenour and Matthew Vincent, uses a composite of 2D photographs in order to develop 3D images which can be preserved in cyberspace. The students also hope that in the future, these records can be used alongside 3D printing technology to create replicas of artefacts which might be too fragile for public display.
Using photographs crowd-sourced from members of the public, Coughenour and Vincent have already produced some reconstructions of items which were thought to have been lost forever. Standout among these is the “Lion of Mosul”, for which the team received 16 images to work from. The technology is so powerful that traces of Cuneiform script can be made out on the published 3D recreation.
Photogrammetry works by measuring the distance between various points on an image and, when used in conjunction with other images, creates a 3D realisation of relative motions within the given field. The technique has previously been used in archaeology in order to create plans of excavation sites, but this is one of the first times that the technology is being instead used to recreate specific artefacts.
These techniques come in a period when the archaeological record is under increasing threat from IS in the Middle East and natural disasters in locations such as Nepal. Currently, Coughenour and Vincent are focusing their attention on reconstructing artefacts from the Mosul museum, which was destroyed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but in the future this technology could be applied to more recently affected sites, such as the Assyrian capital of Nimrud in Iraq, which was assaulted after IS forces invaded last summer.