October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: 3D-Acquisition and Multi-Spectral Readings for Documentation of Polychrome Ceramics in the Antiquities Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Hubert Mara, PIN-Unversity of Florence, Italy; Elisabeth Trinkl, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Studies of Ancient Culture, Austria; Paul Kammerer and Ernestine Zolda, Vienna University of Technology, Institute for Automation, Austria


Motivated by archaeological requirements we are developing an automated system using 3D-acquisition based on structured light for documentation of ancient ceramics. Furthermore we are developing a system for art-historic analysis of medieval paintings using multi-spectral readings of color pigments. Documentation of polychrome ceramics of the collection of greek and roman antiquities of the museum for history of art in Vienna required the combination of both systems for documentation, classification and (virtual) restoration tasks. Therefore we show the combined methods of our systems for digital, contact-free, radiation-free acquisition of 3D-models including multi-spectral readings of painted ceramics. These 3D-models were used – for the first time instead of manual drawings – to estimate a precise (<0.1mm) documentation for a new volume of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum. Results are shown on vessels of the antiquities collection of the museum of history of arts in Vienna. Finally a summary and an outlook are given.

Keywords: 3D-acquisition, multi-spectral readings, ceramics, archaeological documentation, corpus vasorum antiquorum


Documentation of ceramics is a main task in archaeology, because ceramics are the most common finds, used and produced in large numbers by humans for several thousands of years. Archaeologists use analysis of ceramics (Leute,1987) on a daily basis to reveal information about the age, trading relations, advancements in technology, art, politics, religion and many other details of ancient cultures.

Therefore we are developing an automated system for ceramics documentation to help archaeologists to document their finds in an efficient and accurate way, one which can be used for further (computerized) research. The basis of documentation of ceramics is a manually drawn horizontal intersection which is called a profile line (Leute,1987). Furthermore the profile line is the longest elongation around – or cross-section through – the wall of a ceramic defined by the rotational axis (also called axis of symmetry). The term rotational axis relates to the fact that rotational wheels (plates) have been used for thousands of years for manufacturing ceramics.

As the ceramics are found in tens of thousands at almost every archaeological excavation, these drawings require a lot of time, skill and manpower of experts. Consequently our method can also be applied to ceramics found within museums as they typically store and show the most important objects found during excavations all over the world. Therefore we are assisting archaeologists in interdisciplinary projects (Kampel 1999, Cosmas 2001) by using an automated system for acquisition and documentation of ceramics using a 3D-scanner based on the principle of structured light (D ePiero 1996, Liska 1999).

In parallel we are developing a second system for analysis of medieval paintings. Therefore we use pattern recognition techniques to detect and classify brush strokes of under-drawings, which require the estimation of color pigments to “see” through layers of paint.

We were asked for a state-of-the art documentation of a sample of ceramic vessels, today stored in the collection of Greek and Roman antiquities in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (KHM), including Attic red-figured pottery and white ground Lekythoi (polychrome pottery, Koch-Brinkmann 1999). The aim was a full documentation and a comprehensive description of original and restored parts of the vessels.

Therefore we acquired 3D-Models of 128 red-figured vessels of various shapes in the Viennese collection. Especially for the polychrome Lekythoi in the same collection, we chose to combine the experiences of ceramic documentation on archaeological excavations and the color pigment acquisition and classification for medieval paintings. This had to be done because related methods (e.g. Wehgartner 1983) required the removal of a sample of the surface to determine the color pigments, while our method is based on contact-free measurements using a Spectrometer.

The following sections describe the 3D-acquisition, the multi-spectral readings and their combination (registration) followed by results showing the profile line and top-views for the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) and estimation of volumes and symmetry for future work. Finally, a summary is given.

3D-Acquisition and Processing

For acquisition we use a Konica-Minolta 3D-scanner based on the principle of structured light (Tosovic 2002) having a resolution of <0.1mm, which meets the requirements given by archaeologists for their documentation. Documentation using a 3D-scanner for ceramics consists of several steps. First the main part of the ceramic is acquired using a turntable to acquire the side views. Therefore typically 4 to 6 3D-images depending on the complexity of the ceramics are acquired. Than the bottom and the orifice of the ceramic is acquired using typically 4 to 8 3D-images. Finally the 3D-images are registered and background objects supporting the ceramics are removed (Mara 2006a). The result is a 3D-model describing the surface of the ceramic. To estimate an archaeological documentation for publication and further analysis, we have to estimate a profile-line. This is the longest elongation around – or cross-section through – the wall of a ceramic defined by the rotational axis (also called axis of symmetry). The term rotational axis relates to the fact that rotational wheels (plates) have been used for thousands of years for manufacturing ceramics. This assumption can be made for all ceramics of the ancient daily life and almost every other type of ceramic. Therefore we base our work on using the rotational axis to orient a ceramic (or its fragment) to estimate the profile line as it is done manually by drawings. Therefore we use the principle of fitting circle templates (Gander 1994), which was inspired by manual documentation. Furthermore the creation of such manual drawings is a time-consuming task requiring expert-skills and our system will help to dramatically reduce the time for documentation. Figure 1 shows the use of the 3D-scanner at the museum for history of arts, a photograph and a manual drawn profile-line of a Lekythoi.

Figure 1aFigure 1bFigure 1c
Fig 1: (a) 3D-acquisition of ceramics in the Viennese museum for history of arts.

(b) Photograph (copyright KHM)

(c) manual drawing of KHM IV 3745 (Achilleus painter, Ref: ARV2 998.163, CVA-Online Nr. 213985, Web: http://www.cvaonline.org).

Multi-Spectral Readings

This section shows the acquisition of the 105 multi-spectral readings of 17 Lekythoi and vessels having a surface with similar painted surface. The surfaces of these vessels have been measured on a Perkin-Elmer Lamda 900 UV-VIS-NIR (UltraViolett, VISible Light, Near InfraRed) Spectrometer applying the diffuse reflectance technique using a 60mm integration sphere. The reflectograms have been measured from 190nm up to 2500nm in 10nm steps. Initial experiments regarding ceramics showed that decreasing the step width below 10nm dramatically increases the acquisition time, while – due to noise – no gain of information is gathered. The data have been rationed versus a pure SpectralonTM background.

Figure 2aFigure 2b
Fig 2: (a) UV/VIS/NIR Spectrometer (Perkin Elmer Lambda 900)).

(b) An extra sphere mounted on the right side of the Spectrometer and parts of a black box to eliminate exterior illumination.

The surface of the vessels are placed near the slit as close as possible, in order to reduce the loss of reflected radiation. A black box was put over the object in order to eliminate external radiation. The whole setup is depicted in Figure 4.

The chosen method has some limitations concerning the evaluation of the intensity of the measurements:

  • Due to this restricted setup and the varying size of the objects, the distance between object and slit could not be kept constant. To compensate for different distances, we captured the 3D scene of the acquisition setup, which allows reconstructing the original distance. The further the distance of the objects, the fewer is the intensity of the reflected beam.
  • Since the objects are not flat, different curvatures also result in a variation of the measured intensities.
  • Some limitations are given due to a fixed size of the measurement area given by the slit of the Spectrometer. So in some cases the pigmented area is smaller than the measurement area, which results in a measurement of a mixture of background and pigment.

Therefore these limitations do not allow an exact measurement of the absolute reflectance. Still the measured curves can be evaluated, since the relative reflectances at a different wavelength can be used to identify pigment specific characteristics without any post-processing. As this is not satisfactory for future analysis and especially not for automated analysis we decided to determine the geometry of the setup by 3D-acquisition of the setup for each multi-spectral reading of every vessel. Knowing the setups geometry is important to estimate the measurements error introduced by the distance between the object and its curvature, because the Spectrometer assumes the distance and the curvature as zero due to the deviation of the beam. The reflectance and the deviation of the beam at a typically measurement distance for our work is shown in Figure 3.2. Furthermore the Figure shows as 5x8mm rectangle of the ideal measurement area (at zero distance) in comparison to the spot we have to expect for readings of curved vessels.

Figure 3aFigure 3 b
Figure 3: Measurement slit at the exit point of the Spectrometer projected at (a) a graph paper with a mm scale. The “ideal spot” is marked as square. Its typical size is about 5 x 8mm. This corresponds approximately to the area measured on the vessel surfaces. (b) Measurement slit projected on a real object (photo composition based on our proposed method).

Additionally we have to consider that measurement area integrates all the reflectance of the 5x8 mm rectangle, which generally can include any other color of the paintings influencing our reading. Therefore we have to register and estimate the location of the measurement area on the 3D-models.

Registration of the Multi-Spectral Readings within the 3D-Models

To register (combine) the spot measurement of the Spectrometer we used the same techniques and the same 3D-scanner as for the acquisition of the 3D-models. Having the 3D-models of the Lekythoi as part of the 128 piece collection already available, we needed only one 3D-scan per multi-spectral reading. The setup is shown in Figure 4 and described in detail below.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Scanning setup: 3D-scanner (left), vessel placed on a lifting platform, Spectrometer (background) and black box (front).

The following steps are performed for determining the geometry of the scene (see Figure 4):

  1. Generation of a 3D model of the complete vessel:
    • 3D-Acquisition of the complete vessel from different point of views.
    • Building a 3D model from these individual model parts.
  2. 3D-Acquisition of the “beam” and object at measurement position. The beams position was estimated by placing an elongated calibration object with prismatic shape into the beam, and marking the position of the Spectrometer slit. The scanner setup must not be changed between the acquisition of the beam and the acquisition of the measuring scene.
  3. Registration of vessel model with vessel and beam, calculate the intersection between beam and object in order to determine the measurement position.

Figure 5aFigure 5bFigure 5c

Figure 5: (a) Complete 3D model of a vessel (KHM IV 143). (b) Vector of the beam registered with a part of the vessel at acquisition of a measurement (No. 4). (c) Registered 3D-Model having the complete 3D-model including the position of the measurement described by the intersection of the beam and the 3D-models surface.

As a 3D-scan is performed within less than 30 seconds and the fact that a multi-spectral reading requires up to 10 minutes, we could gain an accurate (<1mm) location of the multi-spectral reading on the vessels surfaces without any noticeable increase of working time for multi-spectral readings solely.

Results – Final Documentation

The final documentation consists of two parts. The first part are based only on the 3D-models and immediately used for publication within a new volume of the CVA. Due to the limits of publication costs the CVA will show “only” profile lines, top-views and unwrapping of the vessels and not the multi-spectral readings. The results of the multi-spectral readings will be published as technical report. The next sub-sections show examples of the final documentation and preliminary results of our ongoing project.

Profile Lines

As shown in the first two sections, the fundamental archaeological documentation of ceramics is the profile line. Figure 6a shows the automatically estimated profile line of a typical vessel (KHM IV 350) and intermediate results of semi-automated post-processing. This post-processing consists mainly of addition of the inner part of the profile line as an optical 3D-scanner can acquire only what it “sees”. Furthermore artistic features are added to highlight the main shape/features of the vessels as it is required by the CVA’s guidelines, which aim to remove any distortion (e.g. traces of wear) from the figures shown. This has to be done because distortions shown in unedited images can distract the readers. For optical 3D-scanners this especially concerns the inner part of the profile lines of vessels with a narrow orifice, because it can only be partially acquired as shown in Figure 6a.

Figure 6aFigure 6bFigure 6c

(a) (b) (c)
Figure 6: (a) Automatically estimated profile line of vessel KHM IV 350 leading to the (b) edited drawing, which is extended to the (c) pre-final drawing by adding artistic features.

Additional geometric information of other parts of the vessel, like the cross-section of the handle are estimated from the 3D-model and added to the profile line. Another benefit from using 3D-model are top-views, which can be estimated without the loss of accuracy (photographs have perspective distortion!) and as easily adopted for publication as the profile lines. A rendered top-view and its counter-part of the publication are shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7aFigure 7b (a) (b)
Figure 7: (a) Top-view of the 3D-model vessel KHM IV 352 and (b) the related, estimated line drawing.

The final drawing and the textual description will be available through the CVA.

Multi-Spectral Readings

As the Spectrometer can only acquire multi-spectral readings at certain spots (points) and due to time constraints (10min/reading) archaeologists selected points of interest, which are typically colors used to paint important parts of the figure, like textiles, hair, tools, etc. Figure 5.3 shows the reflectograms for “red hair” as points of interest. Therefore we can show a significant difference between the reflectrograms of different vessels between 1400 and 1500nm (infrared), which indicates, that different ingredients have been used – even though they appear the same for the human eye. An application of this analysis can help to determine fake objects in case a museum wants to add new objects to their collection. In general the acquired data and this technique in combination with a pigment database will assist in further analysis.

Figure 8 Figure 8: Comparison of reflectograms of the colors used to paint red hair. X-axis shows the wavelength in nm. Y-axis shows the reflectance in percent. The ellipses mark a significant difference for red colored hair at a wavelength between 1400 and 1500nm (infrared), which can be used to classify different ingredients for the color.

Summary and Outlook

Summarizing the results of our interdisciplinary, cooperative project, we could show that 3D-acquisition is an eligible tool for acquisition and documentation of ceramics from the masses of daily finds on excavations up to unique objects of museums collections. We could show that we could decrease the time and costs for documentation for such objects, especially because we have a precise, digital drawing/3D-model. It must be stressed, that even more time and costs can be saved, because the digital drawings can be easily adopted for different purposes e.g. publication in different scale and used within digital libraries. Especially the use within such libraries will enable experts to digitally analyze and compare vessels (often not on public display) of different museums. Such an analysis can be an estimation of the volume as shown in Figure 9 or a statistical analysis of the symmetry of a vessel to determine the manufacturing process (Mara 2006b). Furthermore 3D-acquisition using optical methods is radiation-free and contact-free, which can be done in-situ at excavations and in museums, which minimizes the risks to damage to objects and maximizes the accuracy.

Figure 9
Figure 9: Volume estimation for vessel KHM IV 1034, which was – regarding its shape – supposed to be used measuring liquids. The capacity corresponds to the classification of the shape. A range for the capacity is given because we don’t have an exact mark to determine the fill level.

Additionally we are currently adapting the London Charter (Beacham 2006, Web: http://www.londoncharter.org) to ensure the intellectual integrity, reliability, transparency, documentation, standards, sustainability and accessibility of the information gathered by 3D-acquisition. This has to be done, because digital data can be miss-interpreted or in worst-case miss-used, especially when it gets available on the Internet (Ogleby 2007).

Future work will be the adoption of digital libraries for textured 3D-models including registered multi-spectral readings of ceramics. Furthermore we planned to set up a database of color pigments in collaboration with experts of chemistry, similar to the work done within the project Casandra (FWF-Project P15471-MAT, Assinger 2005).


We would like to thank the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF, Project Nr. 18213), the Museum for History of Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien Web: http://www.khm.at) and the European Commission for partially supporting this publication within the CHIRON-fellowship (MEST-CT-2004-514539).


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Cite as:

Mara, H., et al, 3D-Acquisition and Multi-Spectral Readings for Documentation of Polychrome Ceramics in the Antiquities Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/mara/mara.html