New applications of 3D modeling in artefact analysis: three case studies of Viking Age brooches

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Three-dimensional (3D) laser scanning is a nondestructive and versatile technique that provides archaeologists with 3D models of archaeological and ethnographic objects. We have previously shown that 3D models facilitate shape analysis of archaeological bones and stone tools, due to the high measurement accuracy inherent in the latest generation of 3D laser scanners. Here, we explore the utility of 3D modeling as a tool for analyzing Viking Age metal artefacts with complex morphologies. Four highly ornate Viking Age brooches from Scandinavia and Russia were digitized with a portable laser scanner, and the resulting 3D models were used in three case studies of (a) artefact reconstruction, (b) tool mark analysis, and (c) motif documentation. The results revealed both strengths and limitations of the employed techniques. 3D modeling proved to be very well suited for artefact reconstruction and was helpful also in the stylistic and motif analysis. The tool mark analysis was only partially successful, due to the resolution limits of the laser scanner used. 3D-based motif analysis of a grandiose Scandinavian-style brooch from Yelets, Russia, identified an anthropomorphic figure with a bird-like body that previously has been overlooked. This figure may be a Rurikid coat of arms, possibly linking the object to a princely household and providing further evidence for a connection between Scandinavia and the Rurikids. As 3D technology keeps improving, we expect that additional applications for 3D modeling in archaeology will be developed, likely leading to many new findings when old objects are re-analyzed with modern techniques. However, our results indicate that 3D modeling cannot completely replace traditional artefact analysis—instead, we argue that the two approaches are best used in combination.

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The National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark


The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia


The Swedish Historical Museum, Stockholm, Sweden


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We thank Rafael Minasyan and Ekatarina Arnoldovna Shablavina at the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg; Jytte Høstmark, Poul Otto Nielsen, Helga Schütze, Lars Jørgensen, and Peter Vang Petersen at the National Museum in Copenhagen; and Lotta Fernstål, Charlotte Hedenstierna Jonson, and Inga Ullén at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm for their help in studying the original brooches. Natalia Eniosova at Moscow University and Vasily V. Novikov at the Gardarika Historical and Archaeological Centre generously provided information regarding the Gnëzdovo hoard. Ole Thirup Kastholm at Roskilde Museum and Maria Panum Baastrup at the National Museum in Copenhagen equally generously provided information on the Vestervang brooch. Eva Hjärthner-Holdar and Yang Sook Koh at the National Heritage Board of Sweden kindly shared their metallurgical expertise with us. The project was financially supported by The Helge Ax:son Johnson Foundation, The Swedish Institute, Svenska fornminnesföreningen, and The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.

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Correspondence to Sebastian K. T. S. Wärmländer.

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Neiß, M., Sholts, S.B. & Wärmländer, S.K.T.S. New applications of 3D modeling in artefact analysis: three case studies of Viking Age brooches. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 8, 651–662 (2016).

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  • 3D laser scanner
  • Archaeometry
  • Artefact autopsy
  • Digital reconstruction
  • Scandinavian studies