How can a blind person interpret what an Iberian sword or a Roman bowl was like? The answer lies in technology and in the virtualization and reproduction of those objects using 3D printing so that anyone can touch and handle them without fear of damaging the originals. Something that was unthinkable a few years ago.

 

Nestor F. Marques is a researcher that specialises in virtual heritage and cultural dissemination and in the application of new technologies in the field of archaeology.

 

Thanks to 3D printing, the Witbox 2 has achieved the costs of replicas decreasing and has also improved the accessibility to pieces that, until now, only exhibited in glass cases: "in the field of heritage, history and archaeology, 3D printing opens a world of possibilities because it gives us the weapons to be able to create pieces without touching the originals, "he explains. "But the most important point in this case is the accessibility, which allows anyone to feel and enjoy the heritage regardless of disability or any other type of impossibility."

 

Antonio Espinosa, director of the Vila Museu in Villajoyosa (Alicante) was also involved with this universal accessibility. He saw in Nestor’s work the possibility of virtualising and printing archaeological pieces that the blind can touch. “As they are no current objects, they do not have forms that are known to us, so it is very complicated for a person with a visual disability to imagine what an Iberian sword was like,” Nestor describes.

 

"In the field of heritage, history and archaeology, 3D printing opens a world of possibilities because it gives us the weapons to create pieces without touching the originals"

 

The researcher and the museum decided to create two collections: one permanent and one temporary. The second is called ‘Slaves of beauty” and it delves into how the Phoenicians, Greeks, Iberians and Romans dressed and looked after themselves, this was inaugurated on May 31st and in addition to original pieces, there were dozens made in 3D that had been reproduced in real size sculptures “that, in another way it would be terribly expensive to get them.” Among them, a Greek terracotta head stands out from the museum’s collection of 4cm in height, enlarged more than ten times its size to be able to appreciate it better, the bronze head of Marco Aurelio of the Capitoline Museums of Rome, the head of Empress Livia of the Cadiz Museum and the Lady offering the Cerro de los Santos, the National Archaeological Museum and star figure in the collection.

 

 

More than 400 hours of printing, one month and 21 pieces have been necessary to create this sculpture. The impressive result has been achieved thanks to the precision of the Witbox 2 and the restoration team of the museum, which has painted it so that the difference compared to the original is minimal. “It’s a job that has never been done before in the history of this country’s heritage,” says Nestor.

 

The permanent collection contains, in addition, the reproduction, in a size 12 time greater, of amulets of the museum (of 1 or 1.5cm) to be able to appreciate the iconography, an Iberia sword, Greek ceramics and even a Roman epigraphic inscription that will be placed in the market of Villajoyosa. “Specialist of the ONCE have visited the museum and for them it has been a wonderful thing to be able to hold these pieces in their hands, to feel something they could never imagine”, explains Nestor proudly.

 


"ONCE specialists have visited the museum and for them it has been a wonderful thing: to have these pieces in their hands, to feel something they could never imagine"

 

The success and originality of these exhibitions has led other centres to do something similar to what was organised in Villajoyosa. One of the is the Museum of History of Manacor (Mallorca). In addition to exhibiting 3D printed pieces (prehistoric pots, barrels, Roman and medieval oil lamps), visitors are encouraged to blindfold and visit the exhibition with a companion, using only their sense of touch to recognise the figures, this creates an authentic sensory experience.

 

 

Technology that improves the humanities and vice versa, technology and humanities are not hard-fought concepts, in fact, what 3D printing can do for art is a lot. “In the world of the humanities, it is very good to have such a technology. Creating traditional replicas is very expensive, and yet 3D printing not only makes it cheaper, but also gives us the certainty that we are creating exact replicas,” says Nestor.

 

One of the main problems is that the universities have not yet included these technologies in their curricula, either in the form of subjects of courses. But there is a growing demand for these techniques by students who do not know how to apply them because no one has taught them. For that reason, professionals like Nestor are fighting for this situation to change in the near future.

 

“If we can take advantage of this type of technology for our field and benefit, we will do it because we will gain a lot, both at the documentation level, to study the pieces or reach the public. This audience is reached with a format that they already know and in this case it is 3D printing. Technology does have a sense, and in this case it has, welcome.”

 

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