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Holograms to replace real artefacts – a solution for restitution?

Museums (generally those wanting to avoid repatriating artefacts in their collections) regularly talk about giving high quality replicas to the original communities that artefacts came from.

This example uses holographic technology – but, as with every time this issue crops up, if it is good enough for the original owners, then why isn’t it good enough for the current owners to keep the digital replica & return the original?

BBC News [1]

Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 09:03 UK
Hologram artefacts go on display at Llangollen museum

A museum is displaying holographic images of artefacts made using a new imaging technique pioneered in Wales.

The holograms and 3D computer images will be shown at the Llangollen Museum in Denbighshire.

The imaging technique was developed by Professor Hans Bjelkhagan of Glyndwr University in Wrexham.

The museum claims the technique allows smaller venues to exhibit key works without having to borrow them from national museums.

An entry on the museum’s website says: “Although the national museums have programmes in place to lend out artefacts, it often is not possible for smaller museums to borrow items that they may wish to – there may not be the space or there may be security and storage issues.

“This exhibition aims to use modern technology to enable people to view three-dimensional ‘images’ of the artefacts in various different forms.”

The museum claims the holograms “convince the viewer that the object is actually there behind the glass”.

Prof Bjelkhagan has been working on the new technique for 15 years and said Wales was the first country in the world to use the technology.

He explained: “It’s an imaging technology that is absolutely perfect. No computer can reproduce images like this.

“We freeze the light as it comes from the object, so we actually capture the light coming from the object which can then regenerate the object as if it was still there.

“In the museum, they have put an axe and the hologram next to it and people can’t tell which is the real image.”

The technique uses three lasers, in red, blue and green, which are then combined into one white light.

Prof Bjelkhagan said: “You have to put a glass plate in front of the object, and the light from the object goes back into the glass and is recorded. It’s like ‘old-fashioned’ film photography.

“All the artefacts were brought to the labs at Optic to be recorded.

“One of the most unique artefacts is a 14,000-year-old necklace engraved with a horse which is so valuable no-one can have it here in Wales.

“It’s kept in the British Museum. For the first time people in Wales will be able to see it. It was found in Llandudno, in the Great Orme mountain, where they also want to show the exhibition.”

The Bringing the Artefacts Back to the People exhibition is the result of a partnership between museums across north Wales, and Optic Technium in St Asaph, Denbighshire.

The exhibition is being taken on tour over the next two years once it leaves Llangollen.

The project was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, an independent grant-making organisation.