Historical artifacts meet modern tech

By Jesse Robitaille

Ontario researcher Scott Coleman has taken a groundbreaking new approach to studying ancient coins using 3D imagery.

At the University of Calgary’s Nickle Galleries, Coleman worked throughout the pandemic alongside collections specialist Marina Fischer and technology specialist Jed Baker to experiment with photogrammetry, which is used in mapping, archaeology and 3D modelling. Mirroring this technology, Coleman created 3D images of rare coins he now hopes will be more accessible for researchers and the general public.

“With museums and galleries closed, it meant many artifacts were inaccessible to the public,” Coleman told the university’s UCalgary News about his pandemic project, which began in 2020 after COVID-19 forced him to postpone fieldwork in Greece. “I started looking at how museums represent coins, and I focused within Greece given that was the region I was preparing to study for my practicum.”

Comprised of many separate 2D images, these high-resolution 3D models are easily accessible online in an interactive format closely imitating in-hand viewing. Users can move and magnify the models to more easily research a coin’s design and other markings compared to static 2D images.

“They don’t have to be in a museum display in a 2D format where you only see one side of them,” added Coleman, who in 2019 co-curated the Nickle Galleries’ exhibition, “Money and Calgary: The City’s History of Numismatics,” which was shown during that year’s Royal Canadian Numismatic Association Convention.

“It’s a great way to start presenting coins to everybody, and it’s a great way for people to interact with coins.”

Looking ahead, researchers and museum curators could also integrate the 3D models into virtual reality (VR) applications to develop digital seminars, tours and other shared experiences.

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