Category: Blog

Digital artefacts

Michael Neiß, Department of Archaeology & Ancient History, Uppsala University

Data science has brought an exciting new range of methods to humanities research, using computational techniques, such as GIS, 3D-documentation and databases that contain data sets of increasing quantity and complexity. Yet, as digital archaeology is expanding, it is also fragmenting into ever more specialised areas of knowledge. New technologies seem to be superseded with better ones at an accelerating speed. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for archaeologists to monitor current technological trends, as well as to integrate the ever increasing amount of ‘big data’ into the theoretical framework of our discipline. Therefore, it seems more than natural to collaborate with digital experts from other disciplines.

My passion for Viking art and crafts has led me into an artefact-oriented line of research, including 3D laser scanning, database development and experimental archaeology. Preliminary results are published continuously, and I participate in various research projects, as well as public outreaches that relate to digital archaeology.

3D Laser Scanning as a Tool for Viking Age Studies

Project partners: Sebastian Wärmländer & Sabrina B. Sholts

3D Models

Publications: #1 #2 #3 #4

Until recently, 3D scanning was a tedious and rather expensive business. But as the digital revolution progresses, the equipment is becoming cheaper and more manageable. It seemed therefore logical to test 3D laser scanning as an everyday tool in archaeology. Within our pilot study, a broad variety of objects has been digitalized with portable laser scanners. As a result, 3D analysis has proven itself an effective tool for Viking Age studies that opens up the road to creative and innovative research.

Fig. 1. 3D based décor reconstruction of a fragmented Viking Age brooch from Vestervang, Denmark.

Multi Material Crafts in the Early Viking Town of Ribe

Project partners: Sarah Croix & Søren Sindbæk


UrbNet is a research centre that aims to grasp of the cross-cultural process of urban evolution through synthetic studies that employ an innovative high-definition perspective. We propose that the organization of crafts may be a key catalyst for Viking Age urbanism. This was argued through a reassessment of finds from an early metal workshop in Ribe. 3D laser scans were used to classify unidentified mould fragments that derived from different contexts, but arguably belonged together. Our findings motivated a total revision of the local stratigraphy. As a result, we realised that the workshop produced a wide range of metal parts during a short period, instead of several decades – as had been proposed by the excavators. These metal products were intended for composite products like wooden chests, belts, or horse harnesses that demanded the combined skills of several craftspeople. This need for collaboration would have been a decisive incentive for the formation of permanent communities that, further on, developed into Scandinavia’s first towns.

Fig. 2. Reconstructed mould and ‘virtual cast’ of the lost ’Odin Mask’ from Ribe, based on a fusion of several 3D laser scans.

Medieval Casting Moulds from Ribe

Project partner: Mette Højmark Søvsø


The Museum of Southwest Jutland’s collection contains fragments of High Medieval casting moulds from Ribe. Five of the moulds were recovered in the vicinity of the Cathedral, suggesting that metal objects were produced and sold nearby. Those artefacts were either used as costume accessories or for religious veneration. The large number of mould fragments reflects Ribe’s international orientation during this era, with a strong network that involved other towns in Northern and Central Europe. We created virtual casts from these moulds, in order to understand the religious use of the lost originals.

Fig. 3. ‘Virtual cast’ of a lost amulet – representing the Universe, as created by God the Geometer.

Historical cartography as a platform for exploration

Virginia Boyero is an associate producer at Massive Entertainment – A Ubisoft Studio. Independently from Massive she is a participant of the Kulturarvsinkubator from Riksantikvarieämbetet with her project on historical cartography.

I have always been fascinated by maps. With the abundance of digitized materials from museums, archives and libraries all around the world, exploring the beauty of historical maps has never been easier.

Technology like IIIF allowing deep zoom into high resolution images invite to take one more step into the world of maps. But how can we go even deeper, beyond the surface of the map and really take advantage of the document being digitized? Having worked in the videogame industry for almost 14 years, I have grown accustomed to the ease of access of games, the fluidity of the menus and the immersive experience that allows you to interact with the environment and become a part of the world. Turning back to my original upbringing as a historian, it seems I had taken for granted the powerful tools that we rely on when building games, and historical maps, with all the wonder and possibility that they inspire, literally felt as flat as the .jpgs they were.  

What if it was possible to take a virtual tour of Hamburg in 1591, and hear the description of the town from a traveler at the time? Learn about the cost of a meal, the conditions of the sleeping quarters at the inn, the time it takes to travel by coach to nearby Lubeck, or the perils of the road ahead towards Italy? That’s only the beginning of Fynes Moryson journey, which expands across Europe and Turkey for the most part of the decade.

Europe Portolan Chart 1569 – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries. Permalink

The natural aspiration of viewing digitized materials in a more cohesive way, breaking silos between institutions but also between realms, bringing together literature, archaeology and art in a single platform is becoming a reality. With the contribution of engaged and passionate communities like IIIF and the Pelagios network, it feels exhilaratingly imminent. In Sweden we are also lucky to have state initiatives like KAI, the incubator for digital cultural heritage that promote this kind of thinking and innovative uses.

Though it is still in its early stages, perhaps with the help of annotation tools like Recogito, and the engaged community of volunteers that devote hours of their time to diverse crowdsourced projects in platforms like Zooniverse, tying the maps to the art and literature of their time might see a light of hope. An exciting long journey ahead.  

Carta marina 1539 – National Library of Sweden.

The DigMus Project: newly funded project through Nordplus

Nordplus is the Nordic Council of Ministers’ collaborative programme that fosters the cooperation and exchange in the area of lifelong learning and training in the Baltic and Nordic region. To address the current regional needs, every second year Nordplus introduces a new thematic focus for the application call. The highlight of the 2019-2020 round was placed on the advancement of digital competence and computational thinking in the region. According to the recent Nordplus news release, this year 500 applications were submitted with a total budget of € 21.532.072 – more than double the overall available Nordplus funding. As a result, only 362 applications were proposed for funding (47% success rate), including the collaborative development project “DigMus: Empowering Museum Professionals with Digital Skills” within the framework of Nordplus Adult.

The abbreviation DigMus stands for a DIGital MUSeum and aims to provide digital skills for museum professionals in the Baltic and Nordic region. The past decade has witnessed an increasing digital shift, and there has been a growing demand for information about the digitisation of, access to, and the preservation of museum collections. Drawing on this perspective, museums have amassed substantial digital content, but its potential in fostering education, research, and visitor engagement has not been fully exploited. 

To incorporate and harness burgeoning digital collections in new and various ways, museum professionals require digital literacy skills and a different mindset to work with digitally-born artefacts. Empowering museum professionals with digital skills will advance museums in their function as institutions of education and research, thereby promoting innovation and sustainability in developing and maintaining digital facets and as well as accommodating the needs of the evolving digital society. Through the collaboration of universities, museums and government institutions, the project promotes sustainable partnerships, based on the research-based knowledge from the Baltic and Nordic development of new guidance tools for museum professionals.

The idea of the project was proposed by Nadzeya Charapan (Uppsala University, Department of ALM) and developed in collaboration with the expert team from the Estonian National Heritage Board, County Museum of Gävleborg, Lithuanian Art Museum, Lithuanian Integral Museum Information System and Vilnius University (Faculty of Communication). The partners see a need to cooperate across the Baltic and Nordic region in order to collect expert knowledge, know-how, best practices and the development of training materials through analysis, comparison and reflection.

In addition to the main agenda, during the two-year duration project the consortium aims to build and develop a professional network that spans over educational and cultural sectors which are connected with researchers and policymakers as well as practitioners from museums and cultural heritage institutions across Sweden, Estonia and Lithuania. 

As Nadzeya Charapan, a project coordinator, says: “We target to not only benchmark and share the existing gap in digital skills and competences, but also bridge the gap between theory and practice in the cultural sector, create practical value through professional lifelong training and foster synergy from the participating institutions”.

The project will start in September 2020, the updates will be communicated through an upcoming website and on social media. 

Paradata – can you tell us what it is? Latest news from ERC CAPTURE

By: Lisa Börjesson/CAPTURE Project

Although the mantra of the CAPTURE project staff is that we’re curious about everything that could possibly count as information about data production and management processes, the researchers and professionals we meet have a different interest: What is paradata? And can you tell us how it relates to metadata? Most are less than satisfied with our indeterminate answers which are based on our mapping of the multiple meanings and usages of the term in archaeology and cultural heritage (forthcoming paper): paradata is a useful but also slippery  notion that serves an array of purposes. Disappointing as our analytical take on the term may be for the ones who could have used a more clear-cut definition like yesterday, the interest in the term stimulates our continued work.

Some time has passed since CApturing Paradata for documenTing data creation and Use for the REsearch of the future (CAPTURE) was first introduced here at the Digital Humanities Uppsala Blog. Since then, Olle Sköld and Lisa Börjesson have joined the team as researchers. Also, we’re currently recruiting one fully funded Ph.D. student. Plus, in the coming years we’ll be recruiting two postdocs to the project. More on this later on!

In terms of research, two of the project’s larger data collection campaigns are at early stages. Firstly, we’re interviewing both makers and users of research data to better understand the production and use of information that detail data-production processes (‘paradata’) . Tips of possible informants, that is researchers with repeated experiences of depositing data and researchers with experiences of recurring analytical reuse of research data, are warmly welcome. Secondly, we’re designing a survey of paradata practices that will be open for respondents during fall 2020.

Image: Mikael Wallerstedt, Uppsala University

Interested in hearing more about our work?

This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme grant agreement No 818210.