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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

ACRG collaboration restores Herculaneum statue

Published: 15 January 2009
Graeme Earl from the ACRG

A 2000-year-old painted Roman statue is being digitally restored to her original glory by scientists from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton, the Herculaneum Conservation Project and the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick.

The head of the statue was discovered in the ancient ruins of Herculaneum in 2006. The statue is believed to represent a wounded Amazon warrior, complete with painted hair and eyes.

Recognising the potential of the latest digital technology to record and study the statue, archaeologists at the University of Southampton and the Herculaneum Conservation Project contacted the University of Warwick's WMG after hearing about the Group's expertise in three key technologies: high resolution laser scanning, rapid prototyping and ultra-realistic computer graphics.

A team from WMG visited the statue to measure every surface of the head to within 0.05 of a millimetre and translated that information into a computer model. Rapid prototyping was then used to create a physical 3-D model of the head revealing the smallest detail.

Further recording was carried out on site by experts in archaeological computing from the University of Southampton, led by Dr Graeme Earl of the Archaeological Computing Research Group, using a novel form of photography to provide an extremely detailed record of the texture and colour of the painted surfaces.

The Southampton team is now digitally re-modelling and re-painting the head of the statue, using techniques derived from the film industry, and the world renowned computing expertise and facilities available at the University of Southampton to recreate the original carved and painted surfaces.
The work will be used both for educational and research purposes to give new insights into the statue's design, to provide a record for conservators, and to explore how it may have been appreciated over 2000 years ago.

Dr Earl adds: "Far more than a pretty picture, this visualisation will provide us with an otherwise impossible view of how the original statue may have looked in context, and allow us to experiment with alternative hypotheses about its origins. Painted statues from this period are unusual and digital technologies offer a host of new possibilities to researchers in archaeology. Over the coming year we will be working with experts in Roman sculpture and painting from around the world in order to produce the most accurate simulations possible."

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