IOP Summer Session digs down into physics and archaeology

15 July 2016

Using physics to uncover archaeological secrets and help to reconstruct ancient monuments was the focus of an IOP Summer Session held in Hillsborough on 9 July.

IOP Summer Session digs down into physics and archaeology

What Lies Beneath, a public lecture in the Summer Session series, was given in Hillsborough Park as part of the Hillsfest two-day festival by Dr Alexy Karenowska, a research fellow at the University of Oxford and director of technology for the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA).

She has been part of the IDA’s endeavours to digitally reconstruct historical monuments such as the Triumphal Arch at Palmyra, part of the site of the Temple of Bel, which was destroyed by ISIS last year. A replica of the arch, made using the IDA’s mapping project and 3D printing, was displayed in Trafalgar Square, London, in April.

Karenowska explained how multi-spectral imaging is used to examine ancient parchments and other textured surfaces, revealing different layers by exposing them to different wavelengths of light. This enables researchers to build up a picture of the whole or to discern separate texts where the same surface has been reused.

The IDA has also supplied cameras to volunteers in the Middle East so that they can photograph monuments in a way that enables staff in the UK to construct 3D models. Even holiday photographs can contribute useful information about the colour of historical objects, she said. The idea is that the digital record becomes a kind of seed bank for future reconstruction of important sites.

During the day leading up to the evening talk, Karenowska had a stand where she displayed 3D printed models of the Triumphal Arch and showed a video about the work. She is soon to take part in outreach to Sheffield schools in which she will encourage schoolchildren to photograph places that are important to them.

The evening talk attracted a mainly adult audience who responded with questions and a discussion about why historical artefacts and monuments are important to us and whether we want to recreate them.

Manisha Lalloo, the IOP’s public engagement manager, was in Hillsborough to help at the event. She said: “It was a good event as a local community engagement festival and it reached people that we don’t normally talk to.”