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University brings ancient Greek artefacts to life using 3D printing

Students at New Zealand's Victoria University are getting the opportunity to interact with Greek art the way the ancients once did

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07 August 2017

Students at New Zealand's Victoria University in Wellington are getting closer to ancient Greek artefacts than they anticipated thanks to 3D printing technology.

Senior lecturer at the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies Dr Diana Burton said that she wanted students to have an interactive experience with objects housed in the Classics Museum without the risk of damaging them.

"In Greek art, pretty much everything is functional - they don't really have art for art's sake," Dr Burton said.

"In order for students to really get to grips with the way the use of an object has informed its design and decoration, they need to be able to use it and handle it in the ways the ancients did. 3D printing objects is a safe way to facilitate this."

The process has entailed taking digital scans of the items and then having them printed by Shapeways in the US, currently the largest online 3D printing service provider in the world. The first item on the list was a kylix - a vessel used by the ancient Greeks to play drinking games.

"We have a collection of ancient pottery in the museum and one of the shapes is a shallow bowl with a stem and handles," Dr Burton said.

"The ancient Greeks used it in a drinking game where they held the handle and flicked the dregs of the wine at a target. So we filled them with water and had the students engage with the object in the way it was designed by the Greeks."

Meanwhile the technology has also given students the chance to see their own ancient designs come to life.

They drew black figure illustrations using a template for storage jugs, known as amphorae, which were digitally scanned and mapped.

"The students had to illustrate the amphora with an appropriate Greek myth," said the senior lecturer.

"It needed to fit into their personal story and social content, the same way the Greeks did with their decorations."

Having already scanned close to 30 ancient artefacts, Dr Burton is hoping to create an online 3D gallery of the university's Classics Museum to make their collections available to a wider audience and allow viewers to interact with objects and see how the design functions firsthand.

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