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UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants (UCLAiC) undertake imaging projects on a range of fascinating heritage materials

Lucy JStagg12 January 2018

Chiddingstone Castle ancient Egyptian coffin lid, probably 25th Dynasty.

Chiddingstone Castle ancient Egyptian coffin lid, probably 25th Dynasty.

Original article written by Kathryn E. Piquette.

It’s been about a year and a half since UCLDH announced the establishment of UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants (UCLAiC, with a core team of Melissa Terras, Adam Gibson and Kathryn Piquette) and began offering Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Spectral Imaging services from the UCL Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite research facility based in central London. We have since been undertaking imaging projects on a range of fascinating heritage materials. From Roman lead tablets and Egyptian mummy portraits to Persian and Mediaeval manuscripts and modern works of art, the advanced techniques we use are helping to reveal hidden writing, underdrawings and other marks that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

As we wrap up work from 2017, we are pleased to report on one of the highlights from the past years’ projects, namely multispectral imaging on a 2500-year old Egyptian coffin lid of held in the collections of Chiddingstone Castle in Kent, England.

This wooden lid, shaped to represent the human form, is covered with a thin layer of yellow gesso and the head and chest are embellished with red, blue and yellow paint. A column of hieroglyphic text runs down the centre of the lid, from the brightly coloured broad collar down to the feet. Intended to ensure the sustenance of the deceased in the afterlife, this offering formula is formed of hieroglyphic signs painted in black outline with a blue-green infill. The glyphs on the foot area, however, have become very faded and damaged over time—yet this is the very location where the name of the owner of the coffin would have been written.

Lower part of the coffin lid showing preserved hieroglyphic text and largely ‘invisible’ name on foot panel.

Lower part of the coffin lid showing preserved hieroglyphic text and largely ‘invisible’ name on foot panel.

Keen to learn if the name could be recovered, Chiddingstone Castle commissioned UCLAiC team member, Dr Kathryn Piquette, to conduct multispectral imaging on the damaged foot area. Our multispectral system (supplied by R. B. Toth Associates), uses a medium-format, 60-megapixel PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic camera to take a series of high-quality digital images. Illumination is provided by low heat, narrowband light emitting diodes (LED) at 12 different wavelengths from ultraviolet to near infrared, with the application of a 6-position motorised filter wheel (developed and integrated by Dr Bill Christens-Barry of Equipoise Imaging). Together with the assistance of SEAHA PhD student, Cerys Jones, the multispectral system was transported from the UCL Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite to the Castle in order to conduct the imaging onsite.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette calibrate the UCL multispectral system.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette calibrate the UCL multispectral system.

We applied 12 different wavelengths from ultraviolet to near infrared. Initial results were achieved using infrared (IR) illumination. These wavelengths, which are longer than visible light, are absorbed by carbon-based inks/paints and thus provided increased contrast between the outlines of the hieroglyphs and the surrounding surface. Thanks to the flexibility of our MSI system and Cerys’ familiarity with the specific optical properties of the pigment Egyptian blue, we tested further combinations of wavelengths and filtering. Visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL) proved vital for visualising the faint traces of paint surviving in the interior of the hieroglyphs and we were thrilled to successfully recover the shapes of the majority of the hieroglyphs spelling out the deceased’s name.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette examine the multispectral imaging results.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette examine the multispectral imaging results.

With this image data in hand, Dr Piquette, who is also an Egyptologist, was able to research the name and with the assistance of other Egyptological colleagues determine that the hieroglyphs most likely spell out “Irethoreru”. This relatively common name for males during the 1st millennium BCE can be translated as “The Eye of Horus is against them”. This name was presumably intended to protect its bearer against his enemies, although without specifying whether these enemies were material or otherworldly. UCLAiC are pleased to have contributed to the re-discovery of the name of this ancient Egyptian who lived over 2000 years ago. This exciting work also recently appeared as part of a BBC report on UCL’s research on non-destructive technical imaging for recovering ancient hidden writing (see also: UCL News) and is also reported on the SEAHA blog.

Detail of foot panel under visible light (left), infrared (IR) illumination (middle) and visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL, right).

Detail of foot panel under visible light (left), infrared (IR) illumination (middle) and visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL, right).

While the mystery of the name has been solved, there is yet much to learn about the Chiddingstone Castle coffin lid. It was acquired by Denys Eyre Bower in the mid-20th century but unfortunately its original provenance is not known. The lid is probably part of an outer coffin that held an inner coffin which, in turn, held Irethoreru’s mummified body. One wonders whether elements of his burial equipment made their way into other UK/European museums and collections. Indeed, many Egyptian artefacts from the Third Intermediate Period and beyond (c.1000–c.300 BCE) bear the name “Irethoreru” (which may also be rendered as “Iret-hor-irou”, “Iret-horru”, “Iret-[en]-Hor-eru” or “Iretenhoreru”). Further detailed research, advanced imaging and materials analysis will be necessary to discover whether any of these funerary objects relate to Chiddingstone Castle’s Irethoreru. If you think you might have further information that could help Chiddingstone Castle learn more about their coffin lid please contact: curator@chiddingstonecastle.org.uk.

For further information about the imaging services and training courses offered by UCLDH Advanced Imaging Consultants, please visit the page or contact advancedimaging@ucl.ac.uk

The E17 Art Trail

Oliver WDuke-Williams9 June 2017

Two UCLDH related events are picked out in local press coverage as highlights of the E17 Art Trail, 3 – 18 June 2017:

‘Painting with Light’ (9th June) is being delivered by Martin Zaltz Austwick and me, together with friends from CASA and Geography. In this workshop we will produce a series of images floating in space using an experimental device known as a PixelStick, while discussing the history of St Michaels Church and parish. The PixelStick produces images that are visible yet indecipherable to the naked eye, but are revealed when viewed through long-exposure photographs.

‘Invisible Numbers’ (10th June) is a collective of several artists; part of it is about a locally born (and UCL alumnus) computing pioneer, for which I’m doing a talk on early British computing.

The Digital Music Lab: A Big Data Infrastructure for Digital Musicology

Lucy JStagg20 March 2017

A paper describing the infrastructure of the Digital Music Lab framework has been published in the ACM Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage (JOCCH). The paper is available to download from UCL Discovery. The project also got a write-up in Motherboard

Digital Music Lab is an AHRC project aiming to to develop research methods and software infrastructure for exploring and analysing large-scale music collections. The £560k project is being carried out collaboratively between City University London, Queen Mary University of London, University College London, and the British Library.

The Great Parchment Book article in the THE

SarahDavenport21 June 2013

Melissa Terras, UCLDH Director, talks to the THE about the work being done at UCL to create a digital version of the fire-damaged Great Parchment Book.

"Big data and the death of the theorist", article in Wired

SarahDavenport25 January 2013

UCLDH co-director Melissa Terras is quoted in an article on the effect big data is having on academic disciplines.

Read the whole article here: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-01/25/big-data-end-of-theory

Day of Archaeology 2012

AnneWelsh30 May 2012

Posted on behalf of Lorna Richardson.

Following on from the success of 2011, we are happy to announce that this year’s ‘Day of Archaeology’, the public archaeology mass blogging project, is scheduled for *June 29, 2012*. Last year’s event, supported by the Centre for Digital Humanities, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the Archaeology Data Service and L-P Archaeology saw over 400 archaeologists sign up, and almost 450 separate blog posts were created, including lots of photos, video, audio and more. The Day of Archaeology project has been shortlisted top 3 for the British Archaeological Award for the Best Representation of Archaeology in the Media. The award will be presented on the 9th July at the British Museum.

You can read more about the first Day of Archaeology from 2011 on the website. The general hope for the project is that by raising awareness about the truly diverse nature of archaeology, we will also in turn emphasize the vital role that archaeology plays in preserving our past for everyone’s future.

If you would like to find out more, or sign up to write about/film/photograph your archaeological day on the 29th (or as near the day as possible), please email us at dayofarchaeology@gmail.com

Digital Humanities on YouTube

SimonMahony21 May 2012

One of our PhD students, Greta Franzini, has put together this YouTube playlist of DH videos and made it available. I’ve been looking through and see there are some familiar names there!

This is a good way of collecting together resources – thanks Greta. Do we have any other examples?

Live Chat: Open Access in Higher Education (Guardian Higher Education Network), 28/10/2011, 12-2 BST

UlrichTiedau28 October 2011

After a talk point and a poll, the Guardian Professional Higher Education Network wants to give the subject of open access the full consideration it deserves.

To coincide with Open Access Week, on Friday 21 October, from 12–2pm BST, the live chat will consider the various ways in which higher education can become – and is becoming – more open. We will consider what the challenges ahead might be and what policy shifts, as well as cultural shifts are needed.

Guardian Q&As or live chats are always informal and the aim is to share knowledge, experience and allow us to curate a ‘best bits’ full of interesting tips/links on the given subject from our network and for our network.

QRator is Wired

Claire L HWarwick3 March 2011

Well actually it works on wireless. But we are feeling very chuffed indeed that UCLDH’s and CASA’s QRator project is featured in Wired UK today in a report on the opening of the new Grant Museum at UCL. There is also a beautiful photo gallery which includes a picture of the iPad itself in situ in photo 5. QRator will go live at the launch of the new Grant on 17th March and will allow visitors to join in a conversation about museum objects, by scanning QR codes attached to cases in the museum. These then link them to the CASA Tales of Things website where they can record their views. Or visitors can use an interactive label in the form of an iPad on which they can leave a comment and see those that others have left.

This changes fundamentally the way that we interact with museum objects. At the moment the only label we see in a museum is provided by curators. As a result of this world leading work visitors will now be able to see what curators say, but also join in a dialogue with them and with others about the object and the questions that they feel it raises. We’re very excited to be taking part in this work with CASA and UCL Museums, and can only say thank you again for the vision of Claire Ross, UCLDH PhD student, who had the idea in the first place.

Look out for a Digital Excursion to the Grant in May at which you’ll be able to hear all about QRator and play with all the lovely kit.

Un interview avec Claire Warwick, Directrice du Centre UCLDH

RudolfAmmann8 February 2011

Corinne Welger-Barboza, rédactrice en chef de L’Observatoire Critique, une publication en ligne dédiée à l’étude des ressources numériques pour l’histoire de l’art, vient de poser quelques questions à Claire Warwick au sujet de la création du Master Digital Humanities à University College London:

How do you argue the necessity of a MA degree: is it the very responsibility of the D.H. Centres to assume this kind of courses? Is this part of a strategy that aims to foster an interdisciplinary field? Is the aim to supply to the technological gaps in the Humanities disciplines?

As a university UCL believes that leading researchers in all disciplines should teach and pass on their knowledge to the next generation of potential scholars. Thus we feel that students should be able to benefit from UCLDH’s unique interdisciplinary approach and not just academic researchers. So it seemed obvious to develop a teaching programme that is highly interdisciplinary and allows students to call on the very diverse subject areas in which UCL has expertise. Students may indeed be from a humanities background, seeking more technical content, but we also envisage that some of them will be technical people who might like to work in a humanities or cultural heritage context.

L’interview complète