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Digital restoration of objects from the tomb

May 2, 2013

The goal of the virtual reality application, that will be displayed in the archaeological museums of Villa Giulia and Formello, is not to simply show a digital replica of a physical object of today but show the beauty of the original object.  For this reason we re-created the original appearance of most of the found objects and not only the initial state of the context. The procedure that allows us to get this result is called digital restoration.

The digital restoration is a scientific process of study and reconstruction of an object that requires a number of different skills.  This process assembles the knowledge about the current state of the object with archaeological and historical studies, detailed observations of and comparisons with other objects that are coeval, from the same place or the same cultural influence.  In this process, the help of Francesca Boitani, the archaeologist who excavated the site at the beginning of 80’s, has been very important.

Among the objects found in the excavated tomb, the most interesting ones were chosen for being digitally restored.  Over both sides of the main chamber, several archaeological remains of a wagon were dispersed. On the left side, they included iron wheels, their hubs and other iron components such as nails and small fittings. On the right side, wooden remains and embossed bronze plates were found. There were seven plates preserved in their total length and several fragments of various dimensions. The position of the remains suggested that the wagon was probably put into the tomb in a disassembled state.

Iron wheels, their hubs and other iron components found on the left side of the chamber during the excavation of Monte Michele nr.5 tomb (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

Iron wheels, their hubs and other iron components found on the left side of the chamber during the excavation of Monte Michele nr.5 tomb (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

Embossed bronze plates found on the right side of the chamber during the excavation of Monte Michele nr.5 tomb (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

Embossed bronze plates and wooden remains found on the right side of the chamber during the excavation of Monte Michele nr.5 tomb (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

The remains were studied in order to create a 3D model of the wagon.

In order to determine the structure of the load bed, we analyzed the wooden rests and the bronze coverings. Unfortunately the position of the latter was not decisive, as the roof of the tomb, collapsing on the objects, scattered them disorderly.  Some of the plates were flat and some were folded along their length. The wooden remains covered an area of about 3 m square along the right wall of the chamber. Considering the wooden surface and the length of the coverings we came up with a wagon with three sideboards.

We analysed the fragments of the wheels in Photoshop.  We concluded that they belong to at least four wheels, around one meter in diameter.

The fragments of the wheels studied in Photoshop (image: Visual Dimension)

The fragments of the wheels studied in Photoshop (image: Visual Dimension)

The metal structure of the hubs, with a rectangular hole, suggested that wheels were fixed to the axle and rotated together. The revolving axle system was used for slow vehicles.

The hub with a rectangular hole. It was reinforcing the central part of the wheel. Wheels were fixed to the axle and rotated together (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

The hub with a rectangular hole. It was reinforcing the central part of the wheel. Wheels were fixed to the axle and rotated together (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

An important uncertainty about the structure of the wagon concerned the number of wheels. On this point, archaeologists are divided. Since its discovery, it was thought to be a four-wheeled wagon, but recently the hypothesis of two two-wheeled carts has been proposed. This theory originates from the observation that no attested example of a four-wheeled wagon had been found south of the Alps. For this reason it was suggested that the remains in the tomb belong to two two-wheeled carts. Because there is potential evidence that the front part was rotating, we chose to reconstruct a four-wheeled wagon.

3D reconstruction of the carriage (image: Visual Dimension)

3D reconstruction of the wagon (image: Visual Dimension)

The last phase of the process was the digital restoration of the bronze coverings. The decoration, in repoussé, was subdivided in three different parts.  In the top and bottom part, it was composed by a braid motif (guilloches) and in the central part by a floral motif of rosettes.

One of the bronze plate before the restoration (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

One of the bronze plate before restoration (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

Using Photoshop, we created the depth map of all the plates. This black and white image shows the relief of the object, with light tones depicting higher parts and darker tones the deeper parts.

Depth map of the bronze plate (image: Visual Dimension)

Depth map of the bronze plate (image: Visual Dimension)

We used these depth maps in TIFF Format in Blender as normal maps for the digital coverings.

We worked also on other objects in order to get their virtual reconstruction. Amongst the objects that originally were placed on the wagon, there were a sceptre and a cinerary urn that was crushed.  To restore its decoration, we created a depth map, while the 3D reconstruction of its shape was made in Blender.

Fragments of the urn before the excavation (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

Fragments of the urn before the excavation in the lab (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

3D reconstruction of the urn (image: Visual Dimension)

3D reconstruction of the urn (image: Visual Dimension)

The sceptre was composed by a wooden stick, decorated by silver pins and by a bronze orb, decorated with iron inlays forming a series of Phoenician palmettos and a four-pointed star on its top. Its preservation state was good enough to allow a 3D reconstruction in Blender.

Scepter in the Villa Giulia museum (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

Sceptre in the Villa Giulia museum (photo: Villa Giulia museum)

3D restoration of the scepter (image: Visual Dimension)

3D restoration of the sceptre (image: Visual Dimension)

The process of digital restoration of all the objects in Monte Michele nr. 5 tomb is described on http://worldwidemuseum.wordpress.com/

This blog is part of the Etruscanning project, that is been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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