From Stone to Screen: Digitally Recapturing Antiquity

Gwynaeth McIntyre, Chelsea Gardner and Lisa Tweten
University of British Columbia

Abstract: As the field of Digital Humanities grows and the interest in digital resources for teaching and research increases, scholars are finding new and innovative ways to make traditionally inaccessible or restricted material available to a wider audience. However, the costs associated with creating digital projects as well as the required technical expertise for some of the necessary software programs can be prohibitively restrictive for many classicists attempting to undertake such a project. Digital projects often require the acquisition of technical skills and some knowledge and familiarity with uploading and organizing metadata. In many cases, scholars directing Digital Humanities projects collaborate with computer scientists and programmers to help facilitate the project’s incorporation into digital formats (e.g. Barmpoutis, Bozia, and Wagman) or utilize specialized hardware and software (such as laser scanners: Landon and Seales, 2006; Polynomial Texture Maps: Malzbender and Wolters, 2001; or Reflectance Transformation Imaging Systems: Earl et al., 2011). However, these avenues can be prohibitively expensive for small-scale and low-budget projects, or for scholars working at smaller, liberal arts colleges who may not have easy access to this kind of expertise. 

This paper presents two related digital projects currently being undertaken at the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia. The first is a low-budget, high-quality online database of the department’s artifact collection. This searchable, open-access database is hosted on Omeka, a free and flexible open-source web-publishing platform specifically designed for the display of library and museum archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions ( The images were captured using a simple homemade cardboard lightbox and a photographer willing to donate her time. 

The second project is larger-scale, and uses an innovative photographic technique to digitize the department’s Epigraphic Squeeze collection. This second project is being undertaken with specialized hardware and resources in collaboration with Digital Initiatives, a branch of the university’s library system. The technique for photographing the squeezes will be discussed in detail during the talk and although we are using specialized resources, the quality of the images can be replicated at a much lower cost. Our process is even more easily replicated following a software upgrade and the resulting retooling of our imaging process. During the first stage of this project, camera software that did automatic bracketing of the images was used. The new software we are currently using does not allow for this feature but we have been able to reproduce the same bracketing effect in Photoshop with no discernible difference in image quality. 

The ultimate goal of our projects is to share our collections with the broader academic community and contribute to the larger trend in Digital Humanities towards experimenting with innovative methods to digitize teaching collections, artifacts, manuscripts, etc. We look forward to sharing our digitization techniques and our experience with other small-scale digitization projects and helping to make largely inaccessible materials hidden in the storerooms of departments everywhere freely available for any interested party to engage with and analyze. 


Barmpoutis, A., Bozia, E. Wagman, R.S. “A novel framework for 3D reconstruction and analysis of ancient inscriptions.” Machine Vision and Applications. 21 (2010):989-998 

Earl, G. et al. “Reflectance Transformation Imaging Systems for Ancient Documentary Artefacts.” Eva London 2011: Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (Electronic Workshops in Computing). Swinton: British Computer Society (2011). 147-154. 

Landon, G.V. and Seales, W.B. “Petroglyph digitization: enabling cultural heritage scholarship.” Machine Vision and Applications. 17 (2006):361-371. 

Malzbender, T., Gelb, D., and Wolters, H. “Polynomial Texture Maps.” SIGGRAPH ’01: Proceedings of the 28th annual conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques. New York: ACM Press (2001). 519-528.

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