Over the past month we have hosted a series of blogs from former undergraduate students of St Andrews. Courtenay Elle Critchton-Turley (2012), Matthew Moran (2013), Melody Wentz (2014) and Sophia Mirashrafi (2016) are just a few of our students who have gone on to undertake postgraduate degrees in archaeology/museum studies/conservation. In this series of posts, they have discussed their work and how it relates to material culture, digitisation and accessibility. Below, Melody Wentz explores her work in conservation since leaving St Andrews and it’s relation to 3D digitisation. 

Following my studies at St Andrews, I moved to London to attend University College London for an Object Conservation degree. In 2016, I completed an MA in the Principles of Conservation which focused on the theories and ethics of practice. I am currently completing an MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, which provides the practical experience to become a qualified object conservator. The primary aim of conservation is the preservation of movable heritage enabling study, display and access for the public. My current work does not involve the use of 3D scanning, but its growing significance as a conservation tool allows me to recognise its conservation benefits to the Bridges Collection. Conservation uses digitisation to increase access to collections that are otherwise inaccessible, simultaneously ensuring the safety of objects.

I find the Through a Glass Darkly project particularly exciting because it puts my research and studies into practice, with the clear aim of digitising the collection for wider student and public access. This provide obvious benefits for archaeology, including increased access for researchers, and the availability for students to study Cypriot styles.

While not initially a core aim of the project, 3D scanning of the collection successfully enlists preventive conservation. As the project has developed, 3D digitisation of the objects has become central. This project is creating preventive conservation measures for the Bridges Collection. Preventive conservation operates on the assumption that 10 agents of deterioration can threaten the stability of objects. These include: fire, water, pests, incorrect temperature, incorrect relative humidity, light, pollution, physical force, vandalism/theft, and dissociation/neglect. Preventive conservation strives to mitigate potential risk or damage to the object without involving physical intervention. For example, increased access usually brings increased risk to the object: handling is a direct cause of damage by physical forces. 3D scanning involves a one-time handling session during scanning, yet any computer user is then able to virtually handle the object without risk to the object.

Figure 1
Figure 1 Photo taken while I participated in a condition survey of the wet specimens’ store room at the Grant Museum of Zoology. 

Furthermore, through 3D scanning the project is digitally cataloging the condition of each object in the collection. Condition surveys are a common task in the successful maintenance of a collection. They collect information on an object and its current condition, enabling a reference for future examination. This source will reveal if the object is deteriorating and becoming unstable over time, thus determining if conservation work is needed. Throughout my studies at UCL I have taken part in several condition surveys of collections and have experienced the difficulty of consistency in condition assessment. One such survey took place over several weeks and involved the aid of multiple volunteers. Typically, this is done in a spreadsheet documenting object description, accession number, condition, and conservation needed. A common system used for condition is a number scale of 1-4: good, fair, poor, bad. Inevitably, estimations based on this scale are highly subjective and vary; difficulty arises in the future when the survey is reviewed to assess an object’s condition over time. 3D imaging is a fantastic opportunity to create a non-subjective condition survey whereby it is possible to refer back to past condition through precision photography. It provides a truer report than any written description ever will.

It is wonderful to be able to apply my current work to past studies. I recall using the Bridges Collection for lessons in object handling, and a reference for Cycladic ceramics. It is great to see it put to more use with numerous benefits to the collection. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute.

More information on topics discussed:

Information on preventive conservation, Canadian Conservation Institute, agents of deterioration: http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1444330943476

3D scanning in conservation: Payne provides a thorough account of imaging techniques in conservation: https://www.jcms-journal.com/articles/10.5334/jcms.1021201/

Smithsonian’s use of 3D scanning in their imaging studio: https://www.si.edu/MCIImagingStudio/3DTechnologies

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