Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Faculty of Architecture and Design, 2018
It’s the number one rule that is drilled into us before a museum visit: “Please look, but do not touch”. However, 3D printing is helping to evolve this rule, allowing students in Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies to interact with replicas of one thousand-year-old artefacts as they were originally intended.
The School has teamed up with Victoria’s School of Design, to introduce the ancient world to the digital future by taking digital scans of artefacts in the Victoria University Classics Museum and having them 3D printed.
Dr Diana Burton, a senior lecturer in the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria, wanted to give students the chance to interact with the ancient world in a practical way. She says, “In order for students to really get to grips with the way the use of an object has informed its design and decoration, they need to be able to use it and handle it in the way the ancients did. 3D printing objects is a safe way to facilitate this”.
The vision came alive when a kylix, a Greek drinking vessel that was used to play drinking games at symposiums or ‘drinking parties,’ was printed for the students to connect with. Dr Burton explains, “The ancient Greeks used it in a drinking game where they held the handle and flicked the dregs of the wine at a target. So, we filled them with water and had the students engage with the object in the way it was designed by the Greeks”.
The next step was to incorporate the 3D printing into some practical coursework.
Students were required to design their own figured myth or contemporary scene onto an amphora (a storage jar) following conventional Attic vase paintings. “It needed to fit into their personal story and social content, the same way the Greeks did with their decorations,” explains Dr Burton.
With the help of Bernard Guy, an industrial design lecturer at Victoria, and Zach Challies, a Master of Design Innovation graduate, the students were able to have their creations digitally scanned and mapped onto an amphora.
Five students were selected to have their final amphora 3D printed, with the winning designs incorporating contemporary issues varying from day-to-day student struggles to the 2009 Samoa earthquake and tsunami.
“I think it was a really good way to learn. It doesn’t completely replace writing but it would be a bit naive to assume writing is the only way we can communicate ideas,” says student Isaac Bennett-Smith.
Using 3D printing in order to study antiques and artefacts is not a new concept, but it is becoming increasingly popular within the museum world, with both New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s British Museum publishing scans of pieces in their collections. This kind of technology has great potential and will reveal a new way of learning and experience of the past and future.
As Bernard Guy explains, “3D printing allows the unexpected to become reality—it opens avenues to tell entirely new stories, make entirely new discoveries, and to truly unlock the possibilities of the digital age”.