3D imaging as a public engagement tool: Investigating an Ox cranium used in target practice at Vindolanda

Rhys Williams, Timothy Thompson, Caroline Orr, Andrew Birley, Gillian Taylor

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Museums have an ethical code of research and education, and 3D imaging has great potential in helping to achieve some of these objectives by providing accurate replications without barriers to access. Digital and printed models may remove object authenticity, but they do provide direct encounters with heritage and archaeological science whilst preserving the archaeological record. To demonstrate the potential for 3D imaging in archaeology and public engagement, this paper investigated an Ox cranium used for target practice at Vindolanda, Northumberland, UK. Vindolanda is a World Heritage Site on the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, known for its exceptional preservation of artefacts. The trauma type, shaping, impact direction and mortem period were identified, followed by comparisons and physical fits with weaponry used by the military at Vindolanda. The digital and printed models provide effective tools for displaying this evidence within the context of Roman archery to the public. The cranium had evidence of repeated target practice from arrows and potentially lances. The fragmentation of the trauma was angled internally, showing that the arrows were aimed from the front and toward the facial area of the Ox. The high-precision of the archers had separated the lower right portion of the facial area from the rest of the cranium. Several arrowhead sites and two lance head sites overlapped with little additional destruction, showing that some weapons were removed and retargeted. These features provide supporting evidence of individuals in the Roman military at Vindolanda actively participating in high-level archery target practice. The success of this pilot study will be developed to produce 3D models of the crania recovered from Vindolanda for the public to directly interact with this complex, contextual information for deep and effective learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages16
JournalTheoretical Roman Archaeology Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2019


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