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Loes Opgenhaffen, University of Amsterdam/Saxion University of Applied Sciences

Ceramics analysis, specifically the analysis of pottery forming techniques, is an inherently tactile and visual archaeological specialization. Traditional practice relies on the physical interrogation of the surface of the pot for almost unrecognizable features indicating the technique of how a pot was once made, in an often remote and inaccessible storage room. Fingers slide over the surface to feel the technique, a flashlight is used to enhance the visuality of the tiniest traces, which is recorded with a digital camera, a description and perhaps microscopic analysis. Only a segment of the material is then published in a journal or catalogue. How to enhance such palpable practice with digital 3D scanning and innate virtual and intangible outputs? This lecture critically discusses the development of, the implementation in and impact of new technology on a traditional, still largely analogue, practice. It takes the Tracing the Potter’s Wheel project (TPW) as an example to illustrate the issues and challenges that should be considered when deploying 3D technology in post-excavation research. TPW investigates the potter’s wheel as technological innovation within the Bronze Age Aegean through the combination of theoretical perspectives on social interactions, technological processes and innovation, with experimental, digital 3D visualization and analytical methods.

Although a few pioneering archaeologists have been experimenting with digital 3D scanning technology as early as the 1980s, its full potential beyond automating traditional visualization processes of ceramics remains largely underexplored. What is more, is that this particular field of expertise, as well as many other archaeological specializations, often lack the budget for an expensive 3D scanner or the digital literacy. As a result, not only an affordable scanning solution is required, but also a standardized method to share with the specialists, who could then adopt it into research strategies. This adoption is not without consequences and will certainly impact how ceramic specialists analyze and visualize material. In order to identify the effects on practice, a methodology has been devised to scrutinize the research process and facilitate the comparison and assessment of changing research traditions. This methodology, moreover, can be used to track and document the 3D visualization process (the technical metadata and intellectual and circumstantial paradata) as well, in order to warrant scientific transparency. As such, the methodology is in accordance to the guidelines of the London Charter, yet tailored to (small) object scanning.

Finally, these 3D scanning and processing methods, the methodology, and TPW’s archiving practice are presented and shared together the data in a dynamic online database. This online knowledge hub serves as a reference collection of ceramic forming traces and learning environment about forming technology and high-resolution 3D scanning of ceramics. More importantly, and coming back to the question about the impact of 3D technology on such a traditional and tactile specialization as ceramics analysis, this online sharing of 3D data shows the greatest advantage of 3D recording: the enhanced communication of forming traces. Previously, the forming traces could only be described and perhaps indicated with an arrow on a few published photographs. Now, all photographs can be tagged and shared online, and features in the 3D model tagged and colorized, printed in 3D and tangibly inspected, and interactively commented and discussed by colleagues and lay persons. These features could ultimately propel our knowledge about past technological behaviors in an unprecedented manner.

To attend in person, booking is required.

The lecture will also be live streamed on YouTube via