Recreating a 1,500 year old Anglo-Saxon Spindle Whorl

02 anglo-saxon 2In the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University (DMU), we don’t just deal with buildings – we also have interests in other areas of heritage including modelling and reproducing archaeological artefacts. Dr. Eujin Pei, an Early Career Researcher (ECR) with DMU has been developing processes for very high quality scanning and 3D printing of archaeological artefacts for museum exhibition and we’d like to report here on the first of two projects that he’s undertaken this year. Following on from previous DBHG projects, Dr. Pei was commissioned by Leicester City Council’s Arts and Museums Service to replicate a 1,500 year old rock crystal faceted spindle whorl that was excavated by archaeologists near the Lutterworth Road in Leicester. The city of Leicester has a long history going back to pre-Roman times and the museums service has a large collection of artefacts that represent most phases of its development, including the Anglo Saxon period. A spindle whorl is a disc or spherical object fitted onto the lower end of a small wooden stick or peg which together form a weight which is attached to the un-spun wool. The wool is twisted by hand using the thumb and fingers and the momentum imparted to the whorl increases the speed of the spin which in turn gives a twist to the wool, thereby turning it into a yarn. Spindle whorls are a relatively common and very old form of artefact associated with fabric making and weaving being used widely throughout the ancient world. The Anglo Saxon piece that was found in Leicester is a particularly attractive and unusual example as it is made of solid rock crystal that has been skilfully faceted. It would have been a highly prized object and its jewel like quality would have refracted light as it span. However this very property, its transparency, refraction and reflectivity makes rock crystal (like glass) very difficult to laser scan. Dr Pei developed a non contact technique to do this which allowed a highly accurate laser scan of the spindle whorl showing its shape and flaws. Having successfully laser-scanned this object Dr. Pei then undertook the task of cleaning the point cloud data from the scan and using it to make a high quality 3D print which was used to cast a copy of the object. You’ll agree that the result is a highly convincing reproduction and one which can be handled by the public without endangering the original and can be reproduced as often as is necessary. This kind of artefact reproduction can be relatively inexpensive using this technique and offers a wide range of potential applications from exhibition presentation to interactive handling and even heritage gifts. Both the original and the reproduction spindle whorl can be seen at Leicester’s Jewry Wall Museum, one of Leicester’s very exciting heritage destinations which is located in the heart of the city’s ancient Roman baths.

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http://digitalbuildingheritage.our.dmu.ac.uk/

About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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