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Through A Glass Darkly: Perceptions of art, artefact and context

Summary of Impact Case study

Rebecca Sweetman (Classics) & Alison Hadfield (Museum Collections)

Through a Glass Darkly is a collaboration between the School of Classics and MUSA, which is proving to be at the cutting edge of research on the use of 3-D imaging in archaeology and museums.

Project foundations

The project aims were:

  • To digitise the University’s Bridges collection of Cypriot archaeological material (Fig. 1)
  • To provide context for this collection of otherwise disparate artefacts assembled by a private collector
  • To make the material accessible to academics and the public through the creation of a University Virtual Museum (in collaboration with colleagues in Computer Science and Art History)

Virtual Museum (Fig. 1)

The creation of an assemblage of 3-D material culture will provide an important educational resource for students within the University (in particular Anthropology, Archaeology, Classics, History and Museum Studies students). The resource will also be made freely available to the public as part of the ongoing project developing St Andrews University Virtual Museum led by the Virtual Histories Team. (

Using the 3-D material the research aims were to undertake:

  • A long term study on the perceptions of material culture as experienced in different forms (e.g. behind a glass case, handling replicas, 3-D interaction) (Fig 2).
  • A study of what users learn/retain from the different experiences of the material.

To date, research on use of 3-D imaging has focused on questions of the application and use of digital media for purposes such as processing and exploring archaeological assemblages, understanding use of ancient spaces and teaching. As such, this research is being used to inform academics and professionals in the field for their own research.

Impact: Informing museum policy (Fig. 3)

This project brings together experimental archaeology and qualitative analysis to help inform the value of digital media, in particular 3-D reconstructions, in museum contexts. The research thus far has proved enlightening in terms of user experience and digital media. This allows us to inform professionals on the value of 3-D material culture for the purposes of display, interpretation and visitor experience.

Impact: Education (Fig. 4)

While research on perceptions of material culture has underpinned our work, we now have a valuable data set of 3-D material culture (the Bridges collection) which is freely available to researchers and the public alike. As a consequence of our work, we are taking advantage of our own learning process to put together packages for teachers and pupils in primary and secondary schools to develop their own skills in 3-D material culture. This will allow school pupils to:

  1. Undertake primary research on archaeological material.
  2. Develop skills in 3-D imaging to create their own virtual museums.

New collaboration

A new collaboration with colleagues in neuroscience led by Dr Akira O’Connor is going to examine how much information about museum material is retained depending on the different forms of interaction with the object