Researchers at Aberdeen University are using photogrammetry to breath new life into hundreds of items in its museum collection.
The process takes hundreds of photos of an object at slightly different angles and ‘stitches’ them together to create an interactive digital 3D model.
The method is already being used by the University of Aberdeen’s anatomy department to create digital models of organs and other body parts to aid teaching and learning for young doctors.
Now, the artefacts, which are rarely handed as they are so fragile, are now completely accessible with the 3D models allowing public and students to see them close-up and in very high detail.
Neil Curtis, head of museums at Aberdeen University, said one of the most interesting items to be modelled so far was an ancient Egyptian mummified cat.
It is likely to be at least 2,000 years old given it was excavated from the temple at Bubastis, which dates from at least 450BC.
Cats were mummified for various reasons; household pets were buried with their owners but many were created as sacred offerings to the gods, such as the goddess Bastet who was portrayed in the form of a cat..
Around 70 million animal mummies were thought to have been produced in ancient Egypt.
In addition to the 3D model, the Aberdeen team put the cat mummy through a CAT scanner to reveal what was inside.
By blending the digital model of the mummified cat with the internal CAT scan, the team were able to create an ‘outside and in’ animation of the entire artefact.
The scan revealed a kitten skeleton far smaller than the bandages it was encased in.
Mr Curtis said: “You’d make more money selling a big mummified cat, compared to a small one, so they basically bulked it out with bandages to make it look bigger.
“It looks like the cat’s neck had been broken, so it’s quite a gruesome tale really, but it gives some insight into what daily culture and customs existed around these temples in Egypt at that time.
“The reasons for digitising these artefacts are twofold - on one hand we’re thinking about the students in Aberdeen and the chance for them to fully take advantage of our wonderful museum collections. It’s a tremendous privilege to be a student in Aberdeen when you have access to these collections, so we are always looking for ways to make more use of it and make it as accessible as possible.
“In addition we are able to make these models available online so anyone in the world can access them. Aside from the general public, there are a number of international projects looking at areas such as mummified cats, so by making these available we are contributing to international scholarship as well as our own teaching.”
The artefact recently went on display, along with around 150 pieces from the University of Aberdeen’s ancient Egyptian catalogue, at the Lokschuppen Rosenheim exhibition centre near Munich.