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UCL events news and reviews


Geeks at the Petrie

By uczxsdd, on 20 May 2011

‘Who is the man from Mitanni?’ was the question posed by an iPad as part of the Qrator exhibit, on a digital tour I took of the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology on 12 May. Qrator invited visitors to comment on a cast of the man from Mitanni made in 1887 by Flinders Petrie, the museum’s founding archaeologist, in Karnak, Egypt. Visitors’ interpretations then became part of the object’s history and the iPad display.

The digital tour, which also showcased technologies called Tales of Things and 3D Encounters, was a chance for visitors to help shape the development and use of technology in a museum environment.

The museum loaned me a smartphone with the previously downloaded application (app) ‘Tales of Things’ created by the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) in partnership with other universities, which allows visitors to scan codes and download text, video and audio information on selected Petrie Museum objects.

Aisha Khan and Natalie Morris, fellow attendees of the event, both agreed that it was a good idea to use one’s phone as a ‘personal tool’ to interact with exhibits, despite Aisha admitting that she was not that technologically adept. They mentioned the usefulness of the app in providing additional information, which could be downloaded if significant numbers of people were viewing an exhibit at the same time.

iCurator had a similar name, but provided a different technological experience. It enables museum visitors to assemble a display of artefacts in a virtual gallery. Thus with several clicks of the mouse, up to 25 objects, such as ancient stelae (stone slabs usually with commemorative inscriptions) and vases, can be rotated and repositioned on virtual shelves. One needs to be quite dexterous to make the most of this tool, and according to Dr Debbie Challis, Petrie Audience Development Officer, children are best at using this piece of technology.

Next came the 3D Encounters: a computer-based activity to be used with 3D glasses, enabling visitors the chance to view ancient objects from all conceivable angles, close-up and in brilliant, crystal-clear 3D clarity. So far five different objects can be viewed in this way.

This was my favourite piece of technology, mainly because I was able to fully interact with it, and in the process learned a lot about the foot coverings in which Egyptian mummies were sometimes buried.

The 3D Lab, the brainchild of Dr Giancarlo Amati, Research Assistant at the Petrie Museum, provided a similar experience to that of 3D Encounters, but viewed on the big screen.

To date, approximately 70 objects have been scanned by Ivor Pridden, 3D Images Project Research Assistant at the Petrie. Some can take a day to be processed. Off campus, at the company Arius 3D, the various views of the scanned objects are painstakingly joined together to produce images. In time it is hoped that the 3D Lab will be used as a teaching aid.

As Dr Challis suggested, no longer will curators have to stand by in the wings looking nervously on as a group of 20–30 people handle a priceless object in order to gain an appreciation of its details.

Qrator (also to be found at the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology), Tales of Things and 3D Encounters are all available for visitors to experience at the Petrie Museum.

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