UNESCO have recently digitised 5000 images from their archives that document pivotal moments in the past 70 years of history and are asking the public to help them unlock the stories behind each photo.
By adding data tags and transcribing information, it is hoped that the public will be able to enrich the information available to make the images more accessible to researchers. In particular, many photos have written notes on the back than need to be transcribed to improve the findability of each record.
This is another example of how instrumental crowdfunding can be to archival and research projects. Without the public’s help, the information contained in these images would continue to be unfound by those trying to answer specific historical questions.
Click here to find out more about the project and how to get involved.
To celebrate British Science Week (8-17 March 2019), we will be posting a series of blogs over the next 10 days to showcase the excellent work of heritage scientists in using science and technology to understand, manage and engage with heritage.
First up is a piece by Angela Middleton (HE), with contributions from Kim Roche (MSDS), Alison James (MSDS), Ruth Pelling (HE) and Peta Knott (NAS).
Citizen science can take many shapes and forms; such as taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, searching your archives and collections for images of actual leather hats or getting hands on and learning something about the science behind the conservation and analysis of maritime artefacts from the Rooswijk.
Together with the Nautical Archaeology Society, conservators, archaeobotanists and material scientists from Historic England have devised a programme of workshops to bring the science that underpins many archaeological post-excavation projects to a wide range of participants. The artefacts and samples used in these workshops originate from the @Rooswijk1740 project: a collaboration between RCE (Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed; Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency) and Historic England, and managed by MSDS Marine Ltd. Starting with a geophysical survey in 2016, the project recovered over 2000 artefacts during two underwater excavations in 2017-18. The artefacts have since been transported to Historic England’s research and conservation facilities at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth.
The material from the Rooswijk project not only presents researchers with interesting and unique material to study, but is also well suited to help satisfy a growing appetite to engage with archaeology in a very interactive way. Participants to the courses come from all walks of life with varying levels of archaeological experience: retired marketing executives, recreational divers, social workers, archaeologists, etc., all united by an interest in archaeology.
The courses are a well-balanced mixture of theory and practice. The morning is dedicated to learning about decay processes of archaeological materials commonly encountered in the marine environment, the theory of X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), or the significance of environmental archaeological samples on shipwrecks. The afternoon allows participants to use the same tools and techniques that archaeological scientists use every day. In small groups of no more than four, various practical activities are being undertaken. The small groups allow for a more intimate learning environment and give every participant the chance to carry out each task, whilst the tutors can fine tune the activity according to different levels of confidence and experience or interest. Practical sessions include changing of storage solutions, mechanical cleaning and material identification of artefacts as well as identifying environmental samples collected from the Rooswijk site and within artefacts.
Participants monitor the desalination process using a conductivity meter, which measures the amount of dissolved salts. Maritime artefacts have to go through a lengthy process of washing out salts, as these can be harmful to a wide range of materials. This is achieved by regularly changing distilled water solutions in artefact storage containers. This process of water changes facilitates desalination and also gives participants the opportunity to handle a lot of different materials from the site.
During cleaning activities, we allow participants to use a variety of tools, such as an air-scribe (a small-scale pneumatic chisel), air-abrasive or air-brush to remove concretions or corrosion deposits. This is almost always guaranteed to be the favourite activity of the day! Another group works carefully under a microscope cleaning coins or packages them for storage after conservation.
The material composition of metal artefacts is analysed in a live demonstration of the XRF. After a spectrum is produced by the software, participants attempt to match different elements to the peaks to identify the composition of the material.
The archaeobotanist demonstrates various sampling techniques, and participants can sort the flot under the microscope by testing their recognition skills and working through the identification process. On first glance it may just look like soil or mud, but with a bit of practice, they are able to pick out seeds and even identify some distinct examples.
During these workshops, participants’ efforts contribute to the often lengthy and repetitive tasks during the scientific investigation after an excavation. What is more important to us, is that we provide hands-on access to heritage, a look behind the scenes and develop an understanding and appreciation of archaeological science processes.
Our final guest post for British Science Week 2018, #BSW18, comes from Gavin Leong, a student on the SEAHA MRes course. In this post Gavin reflects on the SEAHA cohort’s visit to Hellens Manor, which took place earlier in British Science Week, to analyse paintings using hyperspectral imaging techniques and carry out environmental monitoring and risk assessments that will inform future approaches to collection care.
Every year, a new roster of Masters students from EAHA visit a lovely old country house sat in scenic Herefordshire. But, far from a holiday or a retreat, these students are here to carry out research. And this isn’t any old house, it’s one of the few surviving 12th century English abodes, Hellens Manor.
Today is Tuesday 13th March 2018, it’s 9.25 AM and the sun is just peeking out of the clouds over Hellens. The imaging group are about to head out to Bloody Mary’s room, a place said to be haunted. But instead of looking for paranormal activity, for the past two days they’ve been painstakingly taking images of paintings using multispectral imaging and infrared reflectography. The former was used as a rapid survey of the ultraviolet, infrared and visible spectrum, while the latter can reveal underdrawings.
With the camera equipment, lighting and cables strewn across the floor they resemble a film crew on the set of a period drama. The stars in this production are two paintings, on canvas and panel. Today, however, they will be using hyperspectral imaging to analyse areas of the paintings with similar composition and pigmentation, which can highlight more modern modifications to the paintings.
It’s now 11.35 AM. The environmental monitoring group are taking advantage of the abundant sunlight, a welcome respite after the recent bout of heavy snow and rain. They’re in the stone hall, where you can find an impressive fireplace that bears the crest of Edward, the Black Prince. But their eyes are drawn to the two equally compelling tapestries. One half of the team are thermal imaging, and measuring the UV and intensity of light falling on the woven fabric, while the other half are assessing its condition using a handheld microscope.
Later, they’ll be setting up a camera for digital image correlation to observe any deformation or small changes in strain of the tapestries. By correlating these changes with measurements of fluctuation in humidity, temperature and light in the room, it could contribute to recommendations on best practice for conserving the tapestries in the stone hall.
On any other day it would be difficult for any passing observer to spot the risk assessment group. But not today. It’s 3.17 PM and they’ve donned bright yellow disposable overalls and face masks for the sake of heritage science. Dubbed ‘Minions’ by one of their group members, they have the unenviable task of crawling under the Munthe ‘Cinderella-style’ dress carriage built in the 1860s to get to the back wall of the coach shed. But it was not in vain: there they find the elusive mould, predicted by the humidity and moisture assessment, on the red silk.
The carriages had not been assessed prior to the work by the team. With the fibre and pest identification, moisture content survey of the wood and corrosion assessment of the metal, the risk assessment group can present a strong case for the future management of the carriages.
To find out more about studying Heritage Science at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology, visit the SEAHA website. The Centre is currently advertising several studentships with mid-April application deadlines.
The next post in our British Science Week 2018 series is by guest writer Paola Ricciardi. Paola Ricciardi is the Research Scientist at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. She specialises in the non-invasive analysis of polychromy (multi-coloured painting) in cultural heritage objects. In this blog, Paola talks about a workshop on digital imaging, modelling, making and interpretation of 3D cultural heritage objects and their replicas.
The Fitzwilliam Museum holds a small but exceptional collection of medieval wood sculptures, largely polychrome, made across Western Europe c.1300-1550. For the most part extremely fragile, most of the sculptures have never been exhibited and are largely unknown to the public and to academics. Following a 10-month pilot project in 2017, we are currently running a series of activities funded by the Arts and Humanities Impact Fund of the University of Cambridge. These activities are aimed at maximising the impact of the pilot and at defining routes to impact for a large-scale research project – POLYCHROMY REVEALED – which will enable us to investigate, interpret, conserve and display the collection, ultimately transforming it into a resource that can be utilised for teaching, research and public engagement.
Three events, running in March-May 2018, are particularly aimed at opening a dialogue with scholars, NGOs, industrial partners and crafts/technology practitioners interested in three-dimensional digital modelling; making; interpretation of; and interaction with, cultural heritage objects and their replicas. We want to assess the state-of-the-art of research in these fields and to establish guidelines for the choice of suitable and affordable solutions, which can then be shared with other museums and cultural institutions. Museum audiences are also involved and will be asked to respond to/interact with the outcomes of the initial phase of activities, in order to inform our methodology and choices for the large-scale project.
The real potential of ever-improving 3D visualisation and ‘making’ technologies is still to be fully explored and as such it is the focus of much attention, as demonstrated for example by a well-attended two-day conference recently held at the British Museum and by the ReACH project, led by the V&A Museum. On 15 March, we ran a half-day workshop in collaboration with the University’s Digital Humanities Network. The workshop brought together experts in a range of topics related to the study of, and interaction with, three-dimensional museum objects, such as 3D sensing, digital modelling, digital and physical making, as well as interpretation and outreach. Speakers and participants discussed the various ways in which digital 3D methods can support and enhance our study and the public’s perception of three-dimensional objects.
Workshop participants were given a demonstration of a structured light scanner which was used to produce models of a selection of polychrome wooden sculptures in the Fitzwilliam Museum collection. They were then asked to work in groups and issue a ‘creative challenge’ to design and produce objects inspired by the original medieval sculptures, based on the 3D models.
The challenge will soon be advertised to members of Cambridge’s Community Workshop MakeSpace and more broadly, and will result in their creations being displayed during a late-night opening of the Fitzwilliam Museum in May. We hope people will feel inspired by the creative challenge and we are very curious to see what they will create!
The Fitzwilliam Museum houses the principal collections of art and antiquities of the University of Cambridge, and holds over half a million objects in its care. It leads the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM), a consortium of the eight University Museums and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which works in partnership with other Cambridge University collections as well as with museums regionally, nationally and internationally. The University’s collections are a world-class resource for researchers, students and members of the public representing the country’s highest concentration of internationally important collections, all within walking distance of the City Centre. Arts Council England has awarded UCM National Portfolio Organisation status from 2018-2022.
Next in our British Science Week 2018 series, Historic Royal Palaces’ Senior Conservation Scientist Dr Constantina Vlachou-Mogire tells us about investigating the Rubens ceiling paintings at Banqueting House…
Historic Royal Palaces is preparing for the 400th anniversary of the Banqueting House, which will take place in 2022. During this major project we have a rare opportunity to access and study in detail the Rubens ceiling paintings, their fabrication technique and current condition.
The Banqueting House is the last surviving building of Whitehall Palace which was destroyed by fire in 1698 (Figure 1). Set within a decorative coffered ceiling designed by the building’s architect, Inigo Jones are nine paintings by Rubens, the artist’s largest and most accomplished works to remain in the context for which they were designed. The paintings were commissioned in about 1629 by Charles I as a testament to the glory of the Stuart monarchy through the depiction of his father James I’s life and achievements.
These internationally significant paintings are an integral component of the architecture of the hall. Originally the Banqueting House Rubens ceiling paintings were oil-on-canvas stretched on strainers, but since 1907, they were attached to plywood boards. During their long history the paintings have been restored nine times—including in 1940 when they were cut up to evacuate the gigantic panels from the building.
High-resolution multi-spectral imaging
The first phase of our project involved capturing the condition of the paintings in high resolution images (Figure 2). The scale of the paintings, covering a total surface of 243 m2, and their position 17 m from the ground, made this task particularly challenging; however, recent advancements in digital photography helped us to overcome these difficulties. Collaboration with imaging specialists developed the application of GigaPan technology to document all nine paintings from the ground in visible light and infrared light as panoramic ‘Gigapixel’ images. Ultraviolet-induced luminescence images were taken at close-range from a scaffold, by illuminating small sections of the painting and later stitching the images together to full-painting size. Superimposing the visible, infrared and ultraviolet images allows analysis and detailed classification of the current condition of the paintings as a standing record. This will underpin further investigations and inform the programme of conservation of these important paintings.
We would like to thank the following external collaborators for their expert insights and contributions to the successful progress of this cross disciplinary project: UV/IR imaging Dr Giovanni Verri (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Steven Paine (Paine & Stewart), 3D laser scanning, visible ‘Giga’ imaging John Hallett Jones (Glanville Consultants).
Next in our British Science Week 2018 series, Michela Rampa talks about her student placement at The British Museum, analysing colours in 16th century Indian paintings and assessing light sensitivity. Find out more at The British Museum’s British Science Week event on Saturday 17 March.
Hello, my name is Michela Rampa. I am a student from the University of Rome, La Sapienza, in Italy where I am studying to become a museum scientist. I am currently doing a student placement at The British Museum for my final dissertation. What a fantastic opportunity!
At The British Museum I am based in the Scientific Research Department but also regularly meet with conservators. I am learning how to assess whether museum objects might fade when exposed to light using “microfadeometry”. Microfadeometry is a technique that involves exposing a very small area on an object to an intense light for a short amount of time and recording the colour change on this small area. By comparing the colour change with references, it is possible estimate whether the object is sensitive to light or not.
Why is it so important to assess the lightfastness of museum objects? Many museum objects are light sensitive, for instance: watercolours, prints or textiles. We cannot stop fading from occurring when these objects are displayed, but we can ensure that light-sensitive objects fade so slowly that they will be seen by countless generations of visitors to the Museum in the future. Knowing if an object is likely to fade when exposed to light helps curators to decide how long it can be displayed and under which conditions. For example, microfading tests carried out on Hokusai’s iconic prints ‘The Great Wave’ and ‘Red Fuji’ last year showed that these should be displayed using dim light for a short amount of time (read about it here).
I am currently investigating the lightfastness of some Indian paintings, which will go on display in the new Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World at the end of this year. One of them is a very colourful Hamzanama painting made in 1500. (Hamzanama is a series of manuscripts, most of them illustrated, that narrate the legendary deeds of Amir Hamza, the uncle of prophet Muhammad). It is very valuable and I have identified at least 13 different colours on it! I expected that most colours on this painting were produced using mineral pigments and therefore would not fade. However, I am discovering that, on the contrary, several colours, such as green, are light sensitive! I am hoping to perform more analysis to find out why these colours are affected by light. Work in progress!
In the meantime, if you want to know more about the work scientists do at the British Museum, please come and find me and the rest of the Scientific Research team at our annual event ZOOM IN: a closer look at science on Saturday 17 March 2018, 10.00 – 16.00, in the Great Court at The British Museum. Learn about all of the different techniques that are used to analyse the Museum’s collections, handle different kinds of raw materials and see the latest behind-the-scenes technology in action. This is a FREE event too!
Michela can be contacted by email and on LinkedIn. You can find out more about the upcoming Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World on The British Museum website.
Today in our British Science Week 2018 series, we sit down and talk to Simon Crutchley, Remote Sensing Development Manager at Historic England. Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about an area from a distance, from aircraft or satellites scanning the earth. Read on to find out about his career and the most exciting things he’s been up to…
What’s your scientific/heritage background?
After studying classics at university and spending a few years digging on “the circuit”, as it was called, I got a job with what was then the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) as an Air Photo Interpreter. Since that date I’ve worked in the remote sensing field for nearly 30 years, initially using standard aerial photographs, but over time working with lidar (airborne laser scanning) and more recently satellite imagery.
What’s your role at Historic England?
My primary role at Historic England (HE) is to look at new and cutting edge scientific techniques being used in remote sensing in areas outside heritage, and develop ways to utilise and integrate them into existing workflows. This is both for Historic England and the wider sector.
What’s been the most exciting / challenging thing you’ve worked on recently?
It’s probably a toss-up between two pieces; one is the work I’ve done to try and expand use of the lidar data, released by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2015, by the wider heritage sector, and particularly amateur archaeologists. For this I’ve put together some very basic instructions on the HE website to explain how to access the EA data and then process it so as to produce visualisations to help with recording and interpretation.
The other is the work I’ve done to provide access to the data from the Cannock “Chase Through Time” project, which explored the rich history of Cannock Chase area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There has been a strong volunteer aspect to the project and one of my key roles has been to create an online map, where it’s possible for users to view the results of the mapping carried out by HE against a surface model derived from the lidar data acquired for the project. Volunteers then have the possibility to download the original lidar data to carry out further analysis themselves and also to take ground photos of features of interest and add them to the map.
Who inspires you?
It may sound a bit corny, but people who try to make a difference; people like Bill Gates who devotes part of his admittedly massive fortune to addressing challenges not being tackled by other agencies, such as his malaria initiative.
What do you love most about your job?
The variety. One day I might be providing advice to a member of the public who thinks they may have seen something interesting on Google Earth or wants to know more about lidar; the next I’ll be working with raw lidar data, processing it to bring out subtle features of a landscape no-one has recognised before; the next I’ll be collaborating with other project members working out how to get the data from a project into GIS and shared with others.
In a single sentence, tell us what’s great about heritage science?
Heritage Science provides the data that enables us to understand what the world looked like in the past and how our ancestors interacted with it.