And now, the best solution for artifact digitization is here.
Modern museums need digitization.
Click and drag to see more!
Artifact digitization isn't just the future of museum exhibition.
It's what museums need now.
Artifact and exhibit digitization is rapidly becoming an essential part of museum operation. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented visitors from experiencing history, and although many museums made excellent efforts to continue digital education, it just wasn't the same.
Having access to digitized artifacts and exhibits is more important now than ever before.
Why Digitization is Essential
Use digital artifacts to continue education outside of the museum
The best way to visualize what artifact digitization offers is to think of it not as replacing in-person museum visits, but rather supplementing what's already there. If your institution is like most museums I've worked with, you have a sizable archive of artifacts that can't fit in the exhibits' limited space. For example, your museum has extra statues that just wouldn't physically fit in any of the already full exhibits. If that statue were digitized, teachers bringing students on field trips to the museum could continue the educational experience started at the museum in the classroom for days to come. Even a few digitized artifacts provide hours of additional educational material, a serious added value for any history or social studies teacher looking to take their students to a museum. With artifact digitization, learning experiences continue long after visitors leave the building.
Digitization can be used to help visitors, such as blind and visually impaired people or wheelchair users, to see history as they never have before.
Museums are a safe and open space for everyone, but some visitors might require additional accommodations that allow them to enjoy their museum experience as much as everyone else. Wheelchair users and children, for example, see artifacts and displays from a much lower perspective than standing adult visitors. Those who can stand at a standard adult height are afforded the chance to see artifacts and exhibits from a perspective not everyone gets to see them from.
But if an artifact is digitized, a museum could, just as an example, easily put a small QR code sticker on the floor or wall next to any given artifact and allow visitors who can't see all of the artifact to see it from any perspective they wish to on their mobile devices just by scanning the code.
3-D printing creates accessibility opportunities for blind and visually impaired visitors, too. Artifacts replicated in resin in 1:1 scale can be used to help visually impaired visitors touch and "see" artifacts they never would have been able to before. 3-D printing can be used to immerse visitors in the exhibits by letting them hold artifacts in their hands, something that was impossible until now.
This is an advanced form of accessibility, but as this technology advances and becomes more mainstream, practices like this should start to be considered standard. Your museum could help lead that effort, and even if it's only a handful of people, such a seemingly small thing would dramatically improve the experiences of some visitors. When the question is accessibility, more is always better.
Advanced Research Opportunities
Digitization of historic artifacts means they can be studied closely and in almost perfect detail online by anyone, anywhere. Museums can use this technology to digitally share their artifacts with researchers around the world.
Conservation is, as the saying goes, a contact sport. Every physical interaction weathers the artifacts just a little bit more. Processes such as making silicone molds of historic artifacts are too destructive, which is a shame since work like that might be able to aid researchers in reconstruction efforts in instances where a given artifact is damaged or pieces of it are missing.
But with artifact digitization, artifacts can be studied, replicated, and manipulated harmlessly in digital space. Researchers can now use 3-D computer models to study and even digitally reconstruct artifacts to present them to visitors in ways not otherwise possible. And through the use of 3-D printing, artifacts can be physically reconstructed and studied without the original artifact ever having to be touched. Researchers no longer have to rely on physical access to an artifact, meaning with digitization technology, there are now countless more research opportunities than there were before.
Learn more about the process and its deliverables:
The first step in photogrammetry is capturing photos of the artifacts. Depending on how many artifacts there are to digitize, this can take at least one day or sometimes, if there are many artifacts, a week or more. Photos can be taken on location or artifacts can be brought to my office for socially-distant photography, depending on your institution's needs.
Using exciting new processing technology, photos can be turned into 3D models in record time. Expect each artifact will take about one day to process into a 3D model. Small and medium photogrammetry projects can usually be completed in 1-2 weeks.
The 3D models produced will be breathtakingly detailed — in a clay sculpture recently digitized, even the artist's fingerprints were captured in perfect detail. This is great for accuracy, but 3D models with such fine detail can't easily be viewed online. For archival purposes, you'll still get the full hi-res 3D models, but you'll also get scaled down web-friendly 3D versions that can easily be viewed online.
Not all institutions have access to offsite digital storage, so after the digital files are delivered, they'll be stored by me on redundant backup storage for at least two years. If your institution's digital storage suffers data loss or failure, you'll have peace of mind knowing there's an offsite backup of your 3D models.
Finished 3D computer models can be seen digitally, but they don't have to remain digital! Using cutting-edge resin 3D printers, artifacts can be perfectly replicated in 1:1 scale. The end product is a highly detailed plastic replica of the original artifact that can then be painted and weighted to look and feel just like the original. With 3D printing, visitors can now hold history in their hands.
RECENTLY DIGITIZED ARTIFACTS
Click and drag to interact with the artifacts!
Culbertson Mansion Mermaid
This is one of four cast iron mermaids that were used as feet for a bathtub in New Albany, Indiana's Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site. This artifact is original to the site and was used by the Culbertson family, but it is not on display.
NAFC Library Barney Bright Model
This New Albany Floyd County Public Library artifact is a clay model sculpted by Barney Bright. The model was a draft of what later became "The “Search” statue, which rests today in front of the library building.