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Negotiating Authenticity: Engaging with 3D Models and 3D Prints of Archaeological Things

By: Beth Compton

Twitter: @Beth_Compton

Web Hub: http://www.ourpresentpast.org/

If you’ve ever been really excited to go to a museum exhibition only to discover later that part or all of the display was made up of replicas – you’ll know that, for some reason, people tend to feel differently about the “real thing” than they do about the “copy” or the “fake.”  People have fascinating relationships with things and their copies. Sometimes we don’t know or understand where our own impressions of authenticity come from, or why we feel better about certain modes of representation and replication than we do about others. While some might really enjoy looking at a 3D model of an artifact on a screen – zooming in to take a closer look, flipping it around to see its different sides – others might prefer seeing the original artifact in a glass case in a museum. Still others might prefer to hold a 3D printed replica, able to run their fingers over the surface of the object and heft it in their hand. A lot of this is pretty subjective.

Replicas of an ulu artifact (Ikaahuk Archaeology Project). From left to right: white 3D print, colour 3D print, handmade replica (by Tim Rast), and the original artifact excavated from Banks Island, NWT. Photograph by Beth Compton.

There is no doubt that new 3D technologies are impressive in their ability to mimic the originals – but are these replicas and representations really useful beyond the “wow” factor? How do experiences with originals and copies compare with one another? Does making a copy (either digital or physical) change our view of the original artifact in any way? Ultimately, can we generate more meaningful experiences with digital and physical facsimiles?

In partnership with the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project, Sustainable Archaeology, and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, I explore the nature of archaeological objects and their digital copies in two localised contexts – one in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Canadian Arctic (Banks Island, NWT) and the other in Southwestern Ontario. With the help of the wonderful folks at Sustainable Archaeology, I have been able to take two collections of artifacts (provided by the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project and Museum of Ontario Archaeology) and expand those collections to include digital photographs, 3D models, and 3D prints.

Beth Compton cleaning archaeological artifact prints coming out of the 3D printer at Sustainable Archaeology. Photograph by Nelson Multari.

 

These collections have provided inspiration for dialogues with a diverse array of archaeological constituents including local Inuvialu it and First Nations community members (elders, adults, and youth), museologists, curators, and archaeologists. Overall, I hope to shed some light on how experiences, perceptions, and values differ amongst individuals.

While the majority of participants thus far have certainly demonstrated a strong interest in emerging 3D technologies, there is also a high diversity of opinion, both between and within communities, about the specific roles archaeological replicas should play. It will be interesting to see down the line how these views will shape what we choose to replicate and how.

Collection of artifacts, replicas, photographs and 3D models prepped for an interview at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, NWT. Photograph by Beth Compton.

Collection of artifacts, replicas, photographs and 3D models prepped for an interview at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, NWT. Photograph by Beth Compton.

Note: if you’ve never seen or heard of 3d printing, this is a good introduction to the technology: http://3dprinting.com/what-is-3d-printing/.

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