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My Passage to India, Stage 1: The British Museum in London, England

By Bernard K. Means, Director

A view of Washington, DC from the Hirshorn Museum.

A view of Washington, DC from the Hirshorn Museum.

A trite title, I know, but also iconic. After spending a day wandering a hot and muggy Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, July 29, 2015 (and having great conversations with Ruth Trocolli and Chris Wolff and wandering around a few museums), I traveled via Metro and bus to Washington Dulles Airport. My destination? HNB Garhwal University in Sinagar (Garhwal), Uttarakhand State, India. My goal? To further discussions of 3D artifact scanning and strengthen the relationship between the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) and Dr. Vinod Nautiyal and his students. My project is funded by Virginia Commonwealth University ‘s (VCU) Globe (Global Education Office) and the ultimate result of this partnership is to share via the internet 3D digital archaeological models created by Dr. Nautiyal and his students and those created in the VCL by my students–thus exposing our respective students to the cultural heritage of different parts of the world. My students and interns in the VCL will also 3D print digital models created by our Indian colleagues and design and create research projects and exhibits around the accurately painted replicas. The flight from Washington, D.C. to London, England, was surprisingly pleasant. My experience with British Airways was better than any domestic flight I had taken in the past few years–other than the fact that they had checked my luggage straight through to New Delhi. This would not normally be an issue, given that my flight originally was scheduled with a two-hour delay. However, I decided that it would be worth extending my delay by 21 hours with the express intent of visiting the British Museum for a second time (the last being back in 2011). As I had wasted an hour trying to find my bag, before I learned of its destination, I took the Underground straight to the stop closest to the British Museum (rather than check into my hotel).

Entrance to the British Museum

Entrance to the British Museum

From there, it was a simple matter to follow the signs, and eventually the crowds, to the Museum. After checking my carry-on bag in the cloak room (it was heavy and a bright lime green), I made my way directly to the Egyptian wing on the first floor. As was true four years ago, and will be true four years hence, there was a dense, but ever-changing crowd at the Rosetta Stone. For those not in the know, the three passages of writing on the front of the Rosetta Stone were used by Jean-Francois Champollion to translate Egyptian heiroglyphics and reveal the ancient history of the pharoahs to a modern world.

Looking at the Rosetta Stone

Looking at the Rosetta Stone

It is clear that vistors were interested inthe text AND the artifact together–in the materiality of the written word. I had no problem getting a clear photograph of the reverse side of the stone.

Reverse side of the Rosetta Stone

Reverse side of the Rosetta Stone

However, I was not simply in this wing to see the Rosetta Stone (although that, alone, was worthy of a visit to the British Museum). Rather, I wanted to see the Ram sphinx of King Taharqo. Now, I confessI did not know then who King Taharqo was. I was there to see the Ram sphinx. This is a quite majestic sculpture, and the carving of the ram is very detailed.

Ram sphinx

Ram sphinx

But, my reason for seeing the Ram sphinx was because I carried a miniature copy of it with me, and wanted to compare the real to the replica.

Replica and real

Replica and real

How did I get a copy? The British Museum has placed a small, but growing number of their 3D scanned collection in a downloadable and accessible format on their Sketchfab site. To me, who has been involved with 3D artifact scanning for over four years, it is simply amazing and futuristic–shades of Star Trek transporter technology–that I could download an object scanned on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, 3D print it at whatever scale I wished, and then carry it back across the ocean to compare it to the real thing. This ability to share artifacts to anyone, anywhere in the world, without regard to political or cultural boundaries is simply astounding, and the expanding variety of increasingly more inexpensive 3D printers will make select ascpects of humanity’s rich available in a tangible form to a broader audience than ever possible before–even with a cultural heritage institution as widely visited as the British Museum.

You cannot--or at least should not--touch the Real ram sphinx.   This is not true of the replica.

You cannot–or at least should not–touch the Real ram sphinx. This is not true of the replica.