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December 2013: 3rd Exeter Workshop

Friday, 6 December, 2013 to Sunday, 8 December, 2013
Dr P. Cunningham
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 

Touching the past: engaging the public with the sense of touch replicas and modern technologies

From the 6-8th December 2013, OpenArch members from Sweden, Wales and England joined the Touching the Past Project (TTP) at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, for a Dialogue with Science workshop. The Touching the Past Project (TTP) was an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project (as part of the ‘Science and Heritage’ initiative) directed by Dr Linda Hurcombe (University of Exeter and OpenArch), Dr Alison Sheridan (National Museum of Scotland) and Dr Mark Wright (University of Edinburgh/Liverpool John Moores University). Along with the OpenArch members a wider variety of museum staff (from several museums and open air centres), academics, artists, professional archaeologists, students and representatives from charities who work with blind and visually impaired groups attended the workshop.

The TTP project explored both traditional craft and 3D replicas as ways of engaging the public and providing touch experiences for visitors in museum settings. The Dialogue with Science workshop formed part of the final temporary exhibition produced by the TTP at the National Museum of Scotland (NMS). The workshop participants had the opportunity to interact with the TTP installations in a public context as well discuss the practical issues of using the new technologies of laser scanning and 3D printing to create replicas for public handling.

Friday morning began with all participants meeting in the National Museum of Scotland for some ‘formal’ presentations. Linda Hurcombe gave an overview of the different processes used to create the 3D replicas and outlined key issues for those using these technologies within the heritage sector. Data already collected by TTP of public reactions to craft and 3D printed replicas were discussed along with the conceptual issue of ‘authenticity’.  

Linda’s talk was followed by Julia Ionides,from the Dogs Rose Trust, who presented a different way of using 3D technologies. The Dog Rose Trust has worked on a diverse range of projects at heritage sites to give tactile experiences for people with restricted sight. Julia and Peter brought with them samples of some of the 3D printed models they have had made as part of their work.

Graeme from AOC Archaeology demonstrated the value of 3D laser scanning of in situ archaeology and how laser scanning data can be applied to produce 2D illustrations of artefacts for reports and as a means of presenting the artefacts to the public. All three talks were followed by some interesting questions and discussions highlighting the role that these ‘new technologies’ can play in the presentation of the past to the public. (See Fig 1)

Friday afternoon was spent exploring the TTP exhibition and parts of the National Museum of Scotland after which participants returned for a workshop discussion on the TTP exhibition.  The discussions highlighted some interesting issues faced by heritage centres and museums including the cost, not just of scanning and printing, but making the scanned data ready for printing, the purpose of the 3D print and how to tell people when something is a copy or digitally enhanced to highlight one aspect of the object. (See Fig 2 & 3)

On Saturday the participants were treated to a tour and a talk by Martin Goldberg (NMS) around the Creative Spirit: Meet the Makers’special exhibition at the National Museums of Scotland (sponsored by Glenmorangie). The Creative Spirit’ projecthad been generating exciting new research on partial archaeological evidence which has survived from the early medieval period in collaboration with contemporary craftspeople and artists.  In the afternoon participants had the opportunity to meet some of the crafts people and have a go at a number of craft techniques. (See Fig 4)

Sunday began with an early start to catch the coach to the Scottish Crannog Centre (Loch Tay, Perthshire,, EXARC member) (See Fig 5) which opened especially for our visit - big thank-you to the staff for allowing us to visit when the centre had closed for the winter and for providing us with a tour and most importantly hot drinks and cakes! The crannog is an authentic recreation based on evidence from the 2,500 year old site of 'Oakbank Crannog', one of the 18 crannogs preserved in Loch Tay, Scotland. The visits gave participants the opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas on issues relating to maintenance, research, experiments, health and safety (for visitors and volunteers) and providing an effective visitor experience.


Fig 1. Sofie Kemppi, Fotevikens Museum,...
Fig 2. Linda discussing the value of having...
Fig 3. Julia and Peter observing one of the...
Fig 4. Martin Goldberg and Mhairi Maxwell (...
Fig 5. The Scottish Crannog Centre.