Cultural Heritage

Votive Offering 3, Oughtmama, Co. Clare

One of three hand carved stones found at St Colmán’s Well (Tobar Cholmáin). The well is part of the monastic landscape of Oughtmama, a small monastic site located in a valley above Turlough Hill in the Burren, Co. Clare. The stones were presented to the museum by Rev. O’Doherty, Lord Bishop of Galway.

Original data capture was undertaken at the National Science Museum, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in November 2016, under the direction of Dr. Konstantinos Papadopoulos. Access was granted by museum curator Dr. Niall McKeith.

This model was created using photogrammetry as part of AFF622 Virtual Heritage module at An Foras Feasa Maynooth.


Democratising Datasets: Digital Replication and Aura


Despite the process of digitisation and replication providing non-invasive alternative to artefact assessment and by proxy democratizing the datasets, the digitisation process has not been uniformly adopted as an alternative to traditionalist models of curation and representation. This reluctance seems to be caught up with the issue of authenticity and the lack of ‘aura’ surrounding the digital.

The replication process, that is to say, creating a copy of an object/feature that is indistinguishable from the original, is by no means a new practice in the field of heritage. Before digital applications facilitated the proliferation of replicas of archaeological monuments and artefacts, we relied instead on plaster casts to create ‘reproductions, facsimiles, or occasionally models,’ for museums and art galleries.  This ‘substantial enterprise’ as Foster and Curtis describe it (2016, 123) was established for ‘observation, education, handling, documentation, presentation and art training’. By the 19th century however, changing attitudes to authenticity largely meant that the use and display of replicas fell out of favour leading to facsimiles occupying a type of ‘curatorial purgatory’ (ibid. 126). An assessment of international conservation charters by Bell (1997) further augmented this disdain for the replica process within curatorial spaces by asserting the process was carried out with the intention of deceiving the observer. This loaded assertion is intrinsically linked with the idea of aura and authenticity where artefacts are concerned, and the narrative they create in museums.


Plaster cast of ‘Lacoon and His sons’ taken from the Roman copy in the Vatican. Currently on display in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

The function of the exhibition is to communicate a sense of place and to illicit a response from the viewer, leading from the premise that the individual wants to be engaged by the ‘real’ object to fully connect with it. Many specialists in the field therefore feel that the intangible object lacks agency and an overall aura; that a digital object or a replica of any description cannot communicate a given narrative or establish a connection. However, this idea of aura to me is an entirely subjective process and open to considerable debate. Hazan (2001) emphasizes for example how “sometimes precious, sometimes mundane objects are modified in the exhibition context where they go through a process of museumification, extracted from different locations and placed on a spotlighted pedestal, or isolated in a glass cage”. Any ex situ object (whether art historical or archaeological) within a museum space is therefore re-conceptualised and re-contextualised to conform to a given (and not always honest) narrative.

The subjective nature of ‘auratic quality’ as Jeffrey describes it (2015, 144/145 etc.)  can be best explained using The Stone Corridor in University College Cork. This is a corridor that contains a number of ex situ Ogham Stones from counties Cork and Waterford collected from 1861-1945.  When I conceive of an ogham stone, I see it demarcating the boundaries of interlocking field systems. When I encounter this collection, I do not experience the auratic quality or authenticity linked to the object as their narrative has been deconstructed and reorganized in a clinical space. Ogham stones are monuments that were built into an ever expanding historical landscape. To remove them from that landscape is to undermine the agency of the object. This is a subjective experience and doesn’t preclude the public’s enjoyment or connection with the object independently of my own.


The Stone Corridor, Ken Williams 2010

Fundamentally, all museums represent a curatorial purgatory, filled with objects that have lost their narrative and their true ‘aura’. That is why I believe it is important to move beyond that concept when considering the potential that digital tools have in heritage institutions and curated spaces. In the 1930’s Benjamin saw this separation of object and aura as a liberating phenomenon that ‘emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual’. The democratization that digitisation affords to me far outweighs the conceptualization of aura, which keeps museum, archival and archaeological practices authoritarian and stagnant.





Foster, S.M. & Curtis, N.W.G. (2016) The Thing About Replicas – Why Historic Replicas Matter. European Journal of Archaeology 19 (1) 122-148.

Hazan, S. (2001) The Virtual Aura – Is there Space for Enchantment in a Technological World? Museums and the Web Conference 2001.    <Accessed 20.10.16>

Jeffrey, S. (2015) Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology (1) 144-152.

Kibuspuu, L. (NA) Peopling the Heritage: To what extent is democratization of built heritage management possible and desirable? <Accessed 21-10-16>

The Stone Corridor Photographic Credit : Ken Williams 2010

Reflective Blog 1: AFF622

Who Owns the Digital? 

The issue of digital copyright is one that has yet to be negotiated fully by the state as can copy.pngbe seen by the recent publication of ‘The Copyright and Related Rights (Miscilanious Provisions) Bill 2016’ (O’Dell 2016). Despite this being drafted in direct response to the Copyright Review Committee’s  ‘Modernising Copyright’ document (2013), it has failed to consider the broader implications of digitisation and intellectual property in the current technological climate. It has particularly fallen short in areas relating to 3D recording of cultural heritage and archaeological monuments. In my own work, I have to date, relied upon a general understanding of photographic copyright when producing photogrammetric models and granted/assumed rights of access.

A considered review of these areas in the early stages of my projects has streamlined the process of digitisation and meant that dissemination of data was easily achieved from the outset. It has not however, clarified the issue of copyright in terms of the 3D data produced. This is largely due to the uncertainty surrounding originality of the works being produced and state ownership rights over the monuments themselves. Weinberg’s (2016, 9-10) discussion on Expressive[1] and Representational[2] scans  has provided some tentative guidance in my own digitization process however.

As models of heritage monuments/artefacts generated from laser scanning or photogrammetry are created to replicate the monument as baseline data for analysis and conservation in perpetuity, they are by definition representational models. Therefore, the degree to which I can express copyright over the resulting models may unfortunately be no more than the degree with which I can claim copyright over a piece of text that I have photocopied from another original, fixed work. A potential gray area may however exist when creating photogrammetric models of heritage monuments that is not observed in scanned data. As photogrammetry uses overlapping sequences of photographs, I may retain copyright over those digital mediums[3] (Figure 1) and potentially the resulting 3D model produced. However, it is still by all accounts a representational model of a monument that belongs to the state and does not constitute an original work in its own right.


Freedom of Panorama World Map (Mardus 2014)

In the past I have used photogrammetry to record commemorative stone monuments, largely in the public domain where right of access can be assumed. I have never encountered any issues in capturing or disseminating the results which I had until very recently (with thanks to AFF622), presumed was due to the following reasons:

  • Photogrammetry relies on the capture of overlapping photographs of a feature to produce a 3D model and is therefore likely protected under the Freedom of Panorama act.
  • There is no copyright on archaeological monuments.
  • I have contacted relevant stakeholders (NMS, OPW, heritage officer, city/county council or archaeologist, private landowner etc) to discuss works.
  • Right of access has been granted or could be assumed.
  • I had adopted an open data ethos from the outset ensuring that all collated data would be freely available for research and would not be of financial gain.
  • All stakeholders have been fully acknowledged.

Despite Weinberg’s discussion on representational data having clarified some queries in terms of copyright, the issue remains to be tested legally and until it is, I am doubtful of any further (or initial) clarification under the forthcoming ‘Copyright and Related Rights (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016’. For now it would appear that instead of asking “Who Owns the Digital”, a more constructive question may be “Who owns the Original”.  Any other issues may better be solved under contract.


[1] those designed explicitly to interpret the scanned object differently, and to imbue the resulting file with expressive purpose that varies in some way from the original”
[2] those designed primarily to transfer a physical thing into a digital medium
[3] Photographs of monuments and landscapes fall under the Freedom of Panorama 



Cronin, C.  “Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright
Irish Statute Book (1)
Irish Statute Book (2)
Mardus (2014)
Margoni, T. (2016)  The Digitisation of Cultural heritage: Originality, Derivative works and (Non) Original Photographs.
O’Dell, E. (2013) Modernising Copyright: The Report of the Copyright Review Committee.
O’Dell, E. (2016) The Copyright and Related Rights (Miscillaneous Provisions) Bill 2016.
Weinberg, W. (2016) “3D Scanning: A World without Copyright

Further Reading: