Digital - Museums Association

Digital

We review the latest websites and apps
Jonathan Knott
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Open Heritage

Google Arts and Culture has partnered with the digital preservation non-profit organisation CyArk to present this collection of 3D experiences documenting 26 heritage sites across the world.

CyArk uses a combination of laser scanning and photogrammetry (which creates scans using photographs from mounted cameras and drones) to create detailed 3D models that can be used for conservation and promotion.

Since it was founded in 2003, the organisation has documented 200 ancient and modern sites across all seven continents. The diverse selection presented here includes rock art in Somalia, the ruins of ancient Corinth in Greece and the Aztec Templo Mayor in Mexico.

All sites have an expedition overview – a slideshow-style summary of the project including information on the history of the site and its documentation – as well as 360-degree imagery. You can view CyArk’s original 3D model for some sites and 11 can be explored in Google’s Street View.

The star exhibit is a virtual tour of the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, which features audio narrated by the historian Bettany Hughes. Visitors can move around inside Buddhist temples, look at the art in them and hear about the stories they depict, as well as learn about the techniques used to document and preserve sites. The tour can be experienced on a desktop computer or using a virtual-reality headset.

Each location’s entry has a link to CyArk’s site, where scans can be further explored and the data downloaded. The site also contains editorial features on CyArk’s approach and digital preservation techniques.

Overall, this website is a powerful demonstration of how digital technology can contribute to conserving and interpreting world heritage.

App
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

This app from University College London’s (UCL) Petrie Museum offers content that promotes engagement with its collection.

A key feature is a floor map of the museum with links to text, video and audio content that is relevant to the displays. Thanks to beacon technology, this material is automatically displayed at relevant points as visitors walk around the venue.

Other content takes in a list of top 10 objects, which includes inscriptions from portraits and mummy portrait panels. There is also extensive information on the work of Flinders Petrie, the UCL professor who carried out excavations in Egypt and pioneered seriation, a technique for dating archaeological objects. But in making no mention of Petrie’s pro-eugenics views, the app fails to give us a complete picture of the man.

There is also information on the writer and explorer Amelia Edwards, who financially supported Petrie’s expeditions and who donated her collection to UCL in 1892.

Website
Collections Online - Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales)

Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales, NMW) has put more than 500,000 object records onto this new site. The design is straightforward, with a simple text search, as well as an advanced option where you can filter results by several categories. The opportunity to choose different collections (such as art, archaeology and numismatics, or industry) could suit those who don’t know where to start.

The museum has also posted an article highlighting objects of particular interest. This includes the largest item in the collection – the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, which was built in 1917 and is now part of St Fagans National Museum of History. And the oldest: 230,000-year-old teeth that belonged to an eight-year-old Neanderthal boy.

More than 22,000 of the records include images and many contain details such as measurements and materials, and a Google Maps marker showing where the object was found.

But the written descriptions vary: while some are appropriate for general visitors, others seem to be direct transcriptions of internal records, occasionally leading to unintentional humour. One entry in the industry collection is listed as “3-D object (medium)” and includes only the brief note: “Check what this is – mast? oars?”.

Despite some rough edges, the site has the potential to improve access to NMW’s collection. But more contextual information and editorial content would help users get the most out of it.

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