Dr. Brendan Foley is the guy who lives out many of our childhood dreams: he hunts ancient shipwrecks. As a research scientist in the Deep Submergence Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, Foley has collaborated on dives throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas over twenty years. He unearths Bronze Age statues of Greek gods, ancient swords and shields, and surveys the ocean floor using a jumble of technology.
This plethora of tech is what helped Foley and his team reveal countless artifacts from the famous Antikythera Shipwreck – home of the even-more-famous Antikythera Mechanism. You know, the mysterious ancient computer that has yet to be fully deciphered.
Foley accomplishes this using robotics and advanced sensors that allow him and his team to adapt deep submergence technologies for their own research. Existing Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) allow archaeologists to survey the sea floor to depths of 6000 meters. This brings 98% of the world’s ocean floor within reach.
Mapping the wreck site with underwater sensors, they uncovered a panoply of treasures that would make even the most ostentatious ancient merchant jealous: gold jewelry, glassware, perfume bottles and medicine bottles among others.
You’ve had some exciting new finds with the Antikythera Shipwreck. What is it like unearthing history?
On any dive, we have the chance to find something that hasn't been seen in 2000 years, figure out what it is (if it isn't immediately apparent), and then share it digitally with the whole world in glorious high-definition 3D. Our field team literally gets to unearth the artifacts. But the best part is that we then talk with the world's experts in various fields to help us investigate the objects. For instance, physicists help us with isotopic analysis, art historians interpret the sculpture pieces, microbiologists reveal DNA, and on and on. So we learn something new pretty much every day.
It's a combination of a thrilling hunt, being in a good detective story, and every day feeling like Christmas morning.
Talk about the synergies among the different technologies that are employed during your dives. How do they work together, and what would you like to add to your “toolkit”?
On our dives we employ advanced technical diving technology (closed-circuit rebreathers with mixed breathing gases of oxygen/helium/nitrogen, and several computers to monitor life support), 4K video cameras and HD still cameras, custom-built metal detectors, a specially-designed submersible dredge, autonomous robots for mapping, Remotely Operated Vehicles for diver observation/safety/site investigation, iPads in underwater housings so we can interact with our Geographic Information System, and on occasion even the Exosuit Atmospheric Diving System. All of this kit extends our capabilities, increases safety, and allows us to collect enormous accurate data sets.
One tool we would love to have in the future is acoustic tomography (something like CT scanning or ultrasound) so we can get a clear picture of the artifacts lying under the sediments.
Another thing we're working on is a drone excavator, capable of removing sediment and overburden from the wreck site. If it works as imagined, the dive team will be able to spend our precious bottom time excavating artifacts instead of digging through sand and shell hash to reach the artifacts.
MAPPING & MODELING
How were you introduced to Autodesk ReMake?
During the e.g. Conference three years ago, I sat at dinner with Maurice Conti and Jeff Kowalski. I described some of what we were doing on the Antikythera Shipwreck, and Jeff told me about Reality Capture (ReCap). While we were eating dessert, he demonstrated by instantly making a 3D model of the sugar packets on the table. I was blown away. After that, my team started using ReCap to model artifacts from the wreck (both underwater before recovery, and in air after recovery).
A year or so later, Jonathan Knowles introduced Tatjana Dzambazova to me, while she and I were giving talks at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. She showed the latest modeling results with ReMake, and we started using that package for all sorts of 3D modeling of archaeological artifacts and ancient sculptures. Now that ReMake is here, we've shifted to it and are delighted with the results.
How do you see these artifacts being used for further research and education?
The great thing is that we can release these artifacts into the world digitally, and then anyone can decide what to do with them. It's open-ended, so creativity can reign. In our narrow expert worldview, we can share the artifacts with our colleagues and discuss fine points of scientific and archaeological research. But school teachers and children, artists and poets, anyone can take inspiration from the objects. If enough people see them, then the results ought to be beyond my imagination.
How do you use ReMake in your work? What are its advantages?
With ReMake we can fully and accurately document the necessary changes in the recovered artifacts: from in situ on the shipwreck, then after recovery while still encrusted, and then finally when the artifact is conserved and ready for display in the museum.
ReMake gives us the power to share the shipwreck artifacts immediately around the world, without touching them. The first models we posted online were of table jugs recovered from the Antikythera Shipwreck. Within minutes of the posting, archaeologists from Korea, Australia, Italy, Greece, and the USA messaged us with questions and information.
Why do you like ReMake?
ReMake promises new areas of research. For instance, we are now modeling the badly eroded marble sculptures from the Antikythera Shipwreck. By comparing those against models of other ancient sculptures, we may be able to identify the damaged Antikythera artwork.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
You have been capturing many of the artifacts in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark for digitization. Is this related to the Antikythera wreck in any way?
I have been creating 3D models of Greek and Roman sculptures in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, and the project is related to Antikythera. The shipwreck contained 36 marble sculptures and probably eight or ten bronze statues. But they were all badly damaged and eroded by 2000 years underwater. Many of the marble sculptures are unrecognizable, with the features and details dissolved away. However, their basic forms (pose and proportions) can be compared to surviving ancient sculptures, in the hope of identifying the Antikythera works.
This is possible because ancient sculptures were made in series, and copied through time and across cultures. An original 5th century BC bronze masterpiece of a god or hero may no longer exist, but a 2nd century B.C. Hellenistic marble copy or a 4th century A.D. Roman copy may preserve the design. My project, 3D Antiquity, uses ReMake to accurately and precisely model as many surviving sculptures and plaster casts of them as possible (perhaps as many as 10,000). We can then compare the Antikythera sculptures against the models, and find matches.
And we'll make the entire encyclopedia of sculptures freely available on-line, so everyone can enjoy the statues.
Tell me about your work with the Glyptotek museum. What’s in the pipeline?
Many things in the pipeline. Here are some:
As 3D Antiquity has progressed, the curators at Glyptotek have started to request 3D models of other artifacts in their collection. Next week I will model a terracotta object for them.
In Greece, I am working with the director of the Numismatic Museum to 3D model metal ingots recovered from a Bronze Age shipwreck. These copper or bronze ingots are very rare, known only from a few shipwrecks. We can compare the ingots' shape, size, and appearance easily with the 3D models, and we're also performing metallurgical and isotopic analysis so we can pinpoint the elements in the ingots and the geographic source of the metal.
I have permission from a growing number of museums and sculpture collections to continue 3D Antiquity, so the total number of accessible statues and copies is over 2,000. Now I have to design and build a camera array so we can reduce image collection to about 10 minutes per sculpture. With several arrays, we will be able to 3D model an entire museum collection in a week or two.
As the encyclopedia grows, it will be possible to directly compare similar sculptures. For example, I recently modeled a life-sized statue at Glyptotek of the "Wounded Amazon". The Met in New York holds another copy of the sculpture. I don't think they've ever been in the same room together, but now we can compare the two works of art (and other extant copies of this statue residing elsewhere) directly with the models. Both statues are incomplete and both have been restored over the centuries. It would be very interesting to compare their original parts, and begin to develop an accurate representation of the original sculpture.
We would also like to model parts of sculptures (isolated feet, arms, heads) sitting in museums and storerooms, and try to match them up with their associated partners.
ReMake allows us not only to compare models to each other, but also to take accurate measurement of them. The possibilities for archaeology are enormous- we'll be able to compare artifacts around the world without ever having to move them.
We also must build imaging lightboxes to hold archaeological artifacts of different sizes and shapes so we can rapidly and accurately model them. Ultimately, I would like to have 3D models of every artifact we recover from the Antikythera Shipwreck, and every wreck we discover in the future.
To learn more about Dr. Brendan Foley’s work with Archaeology and Technology in the Deep Sea at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute visit http://www.whoi.edu/sbl/liteSite.do?litesiteid=2740. Learn more about the Antikythera Shipwreck project here http://antikythera.whoi.edu/.