The ARCHiOx Project: Seeing the Unseen in Bodleian Collections

The Bodleian Libraries is thrilled to once again be working in partnership with the Factum Foundation. The ARCHiOx Project (Analysing and Recording Cultural Heritage in Oxford), funded by The Helen Hamlyn Trust, will initially focus on the recording of marks on selected items from the Bodleian Libraries’ unique special collections on a twelve-month research project.

The Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation is a not-for-profit organisation, founded by Adam Lowe in 2009 in Madrid. The Foundation was established to demonstrate the importance of documenting, monitoring, studying, recreating and disseminating the world’s cultural heritage through the rigorous development of high-resolution recording and re-materialisation techniques.

Using technology conceived and developed at Factum Arte, the ARCHiOx Project will use both a prototype photographic system (Selene Stereo Photometric Scanner, developed by Jorge Cano) and 3D scanning (Lucida 3D Scanner, developed by artist-engineer Manuel Franquelo and the team at Factum) to bring to life relief surfaces of some of the Bodleian’s most celebrated artefacts. This relatively unexplored path to mapping and digitisation should in turn present fascinating new avenues of exploration and research, as it reveals aspects of the item hitherto unrealised or recorded.

ARCHiOx will provide a free exchange of knowledge and approaches between the academic and technical team at the Bodleian and Factum Foundation’s experts, as we explore and demonstrate the potential of applying non-contact digital technologies to the study of materials held by the Bodleian Libraries.

The initial research area for the project will focus on Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscripts, as well as 18th century copperplate prints - including those designed by Romantic poet, William Blake. This focus will allow greater understanding and exploration of printing, binding and handwriting techniques, presenting new and unexplored research paths, as well as preserving their likeness as a digital image. Scratches and markings made by pens, copperplates, seals, handling and more will now be recorded in outstanding detail. Some of the outputs of the project will, where appropriate, be delivered via Digital Bodleian, the Libraries’ flagship platform for digitized image collections.

Of the project, Judith Siefring, Head of Digital Collections Discovery, said:  

We are very excited to be embarking on this collaboration with the Factum Foundation. ARCHiOx will not only demonstrate the potential of applying new imaging technologies to our collections but will also allow us to consider how best to share the resulting images with our users. We look forward to telling new stories about items in our collections and to identifying future pathways for delivering this kind of content to the research community.

Adam Lowe, founder of Factum Foundation, said:

ARCHiOx is a groundbreaking initiative. I can’t wait to see the results that emerge over the next 12 months. Thanks to Helen Hamlyn and her advisors, Richard Ovenden and the great team at the Bodleian Libraries and everyone at Factum who commits so much time and energy to the understanding and preservation of cultural artefacts.

The relationship between digital recording, non-contact restoration and online/offline access has never presented more opportunities. Hopefully, it will result in an addition of high-resolution 3D recording as part of the IIIF protocols.  

Factum is convinced that the photometric-stereo system will rapidly become a central part of digital recording in museums and libraries around the world. New technologies seldom emerge fully formed, but after over 20 years of working to record the subtle surfaces of different objects, we built this system to be fast, objective and easy to use.