University of Exeter Secures Funding for State-of-the-Art SHArD 3D Archaeological Research Lab

Dr Carly Ameen using an Artec Laser Scanner.

(IN BRIEF) The University of Exeter has secured funding to establish the cutting-edge Science, Heritage and Archaeology Digital 3D (SHArD 3D) Laboratory. This state-of-the-art facility will enable researchers to digitally replicate and analyze biological and cultural artifacts, revolutionizing the preservation of bio-cultural heritage. The laboratory will utilize advanced scanning and microscopy techniques to create detailed digital records, upgrading existing 2D photographs to 3D models. The funding will also support the acquisition of specialized equipment for microCT imaging and microscopy, expanding the University’s capabilities in experimental archaeology and material studies. SHArD 3D aims to become a national resource for forensic scientists, pathologists, and heritage partners.

(PRESS RELEASE) EXETER, 15-May-2023 — /EuropaWire/ —  University of Exeter, a public research university in Exeter, Devon, South West England, United Kingdom, has successfully obtained funding to establish a pioneering archaeological laboratory, heralding a new era in the preservation and analysis of biological and cultural heritage through digital replication.

Named the Science, Heritage and Archaeology Digital 3D (SHArD 3D) Laboratory, this cutting-edge facility is the brainchild of esteemed archaeologists from the University of Exeter. It aims to revolutionize research by utilizing advanced scanning and microscopy techniques to create highly detailed digital records, enabling fresh insights into biological and cultural transformations. Collaborating with museum curators, including Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, SHArD 3D will upgrade existing 2D photographic records to immersive 3D models. Furthermore, it will serve as a valuable national resource for forensic scientists and pathologists.

The development of the SHArD 3D Laboratory has received approval following a grant of nearly £893,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative Research Capability scheme. This funding builds upon the University’s existing investments in the field, including the establishment of the Geometric Morphometrics Laboratory in 2018.

“We know that archaeology can be destructive, whether at the excavation stage, through handling artefacts, or subjecting them to scientific analysis,” says Professor Naomi Sykes, Head of the Department of Archaeology and History. “That is why an ethos of ‘preservation by record’ is now, more than ever, a driving force for archaeologists. Through this funding, and the creation of SHArD 3D, we have the chance to take that to the next level and establish a facility here that can become a centre of excellence for 3D preservation and analysis.”

The creation of SHArD 3D will enable the University to enhance its 3D scanning capabilities and expand the range of objects it can accommodate, ranging from small artifacts to monumental features exceeding 160,000cm³. Portable equipment will also be acquired, facilitating on-site scanning of indigenous rock art in the Americas, as well as analyses of excavation trenches and crime scenes.

Notably, SHArD 3D will introduce the South West region’s first humanities-led microCT facility, equipped with a cutting-edge scanner enabling non-destructive 3D imaging of both external and internal features of archaeological and forensic bone, as well as material culture artifacts. This facility will significantly benefit heritage partners in the UK and internationally, as well as forensic pathologists, who currently have limited access to comparable national facilities.

In addition, the funding will enable the acquisition of two specialist microscopes for experimental and forensic archaeology. These instruments will empower the research team to study a diverse range of materials, including bone, shell, organic fabrics, and pollen, thereby expanding the scope of research conducted by the University’s Experimental Archaeology and Material Lives research groups.

“We are very excited about the potential of SHArD 3D to not only train the next generation of academic researchers, but to provide resource and support to our partners and others in their fields,” adds Dr Carly Ameen, Lecturer in Bioarchaeology and one of the leads for the project. “From providing critical new capacity to forensic science, to transforming the way collections are stored and presented, this is very much a project that will provide ongoing benefits to those outside of the university community.”

Among the notable partners supporting SHArD 3D are the Portable Antiquities Scheme within the British Museum, housing a collection of 1.6 million cultural heritage finds, and the National Board of Forensic Pathologists.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £103 million to expand and upgrade the UK’s research infrastructure, including digital infrastructure. UKRI International Champion, Professor Christopher Smith, said:

“This crucial support for UK research infrastructure is part of the package of support provided by government so that our research and innovation communities can carry on with their essential work notwithstanding the delay to association with Horizon Europe.

“The investments, made across the UK, will provide UK researchers with advanced equipment, facilities and technology, and help maintain the UK’s position as a leader in research and innovation. This support will ensure the UK is an attractive place for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live, work and innovate.”

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SOURCE: University of Exeter


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