LH.20.015 – Caring by sharing, unlocking archaeological objects for a virtual future

Route: Living history

Cluster question: 111 Will digitisation save our cultural heritage?

Archaeology reconstructs ancient people past-life and activities from the analysis of remains found in surveys and excavations. Objects left behind by past populations such as tools or pottery, but also botanical residues or bones are at the core of archaeological research. To facilitate identification, categorization and interpretation, reference collections are of utmost importance. While currently physical reference collections are commonly used for this purpose, these are not freely accessible nor readily available to all in need. Over the last decades several initiatives for digital (reference) collections of archaeological material have seen the light, unfortunately, many of these turned out to be unsustainable, restricted in access, and incomplete. Currently, PAN (Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands) is the first and only digital open online collection for identifying and categorizing metal objects, designed for and used by professionals for research and detector amateurs. Yet, PAN, and the other online collections, only show 2D-representations and do not represent the archaeological record as a whole.
Various initiatives have been developed to digitize archaeological reference collections for research and educational purposes at Leiden University and Saxion UAS, which became more urgent and necessary as a result of the current health crisis. While 3D-models of objects and bones have already been used successfully in both research and teaching, a general framework and system to create, share, and sustainably maintain the resulting virtual collections is currently lacking.
In this project, we intend to unite all these local and individual initiatives and build an open, online virtual reference collection available to researchers (academic and commercial), students, and the public. This project will investigate best practices for 3D-scanning and processing of scans of the materials and will provide solutions for sustainable storage and maintenance of these digital collections for the future and make them accessible for generations to come.


3D-library, archaeology, online archive, open access, Reference collection

Other organisations

Department of Archaeology Saxion University of Applied Sciences


Organisation Leiden University (LEI)
Name Dr. R. (Rachel) Schats
E-mail r.schats@arch.leidenuniv.nl
Website https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/staffmembers/rachel-schats#tab-2