The interior of the Rothwell Charnel Chapel ossuary has been scanned using cutting-edge technology

3D model of medieval artefact to be created with virtual factory tech

Systems for virtual factory simulations will be used by Sheffield University researchers to create a 3D model of a medieval ossuary from data acquired with cutting-edge imaging technology.

The interior of the ossuary at the Rothwell Charnel Chapel, one of the only two remaining ossuaries in the UK, has been scanned by University of Scheffield researchers using Leica ScanStation P20 laser radar. The data will now serve as a basis for the university’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to create the 3D model that could be used by archaeologists for future reference to establish the rate of decay within the ossuary or give visitors an alternative if access to the site has to be restricted in the future.

“The method is a very quick way of gathering a lot of data, which will be built up into a 3D image or virtual reality model of the inside of the ossuary,” said AMRC metrology engineer Tom Hodgson.

The engineers used a tripod allowing a 360 degree rotation to allow the radar to capture every single point of the scanned surfaces. To capture as many points as possible they moved the scanner to multiple locations within the ossuary, a chamber used to store bones retrieved from graveyards

“As ossuaries are usually within the catacombs of a church, the number of positions we had to move around the scanning equipment was limited. The challenge for the team was how we gathered data in a limited environment, without it hampering the quality of the final models,” Hodgson said.

Ossuaries were once commonplace in Christian European countries, but many English ones were destroyed or emptied during the 16th Century because of their link with pre-Reformation Catholic ideologies.

As a consequence there are only two examples left in the UK which are slowly degrading. That means scientists and archaeologists have a small window of opportunity to capture the data they hold.

“As the stacks of bones will continue to degrade, the mass of the bones in future years can be compared to the scanning record, allowing us to document any changes over time,” said Doctoral Researcher, Jennifer Crangle from Sheffield University’s Department of Archaeology who works on the Rothwell Charnel Chapel and Ossuary Project.

“Rendering the data into a virtual reality model creates a permanent record of a unique site, allowing researchers and visitors to see the entirety of the exact crypt structure, as it has never been seen before.”

The technology is usually employed by the AMRC to create factory layout simulations for companies to optimise their manufacturing processes.

Using the system to preserve the Rothwell Charnel Chapel ossuary data thus paves the way for a whole new world of possible applications.

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