Thursday, March 6, 2014

Computer program rebuilds treasure from broken pottery

I grew up searching for treasure - small, colorful rocks, pieces of driftwood, beach glass, agates - any interesting piece of flotsam that caught me eye. To me, the pieces represented possibility - what could be done with this? I painted little pet people, wire wrapped the beach glass, created one-of-a-kind artwork on the driftwood, and gathered more agates in my garage than is reasonable for one woman.

When I was gifted a suitcase full of southwest pottery shards at a local garage sale (the find of a lifetime!), my interest expanded to the pieces of pottery that lie buried all around the world, remnants of bygone civilizations. These stone-like pieces of formed earth hold secrets. As a potter, I feel a thrill of connection when I hold a pottery shard in my hand, a piece that was made by an indigenous potter 500-600 years ago. Things haven't changed that much in the pottery world; I recognize the techniques, and appreciate the craftsmanship.

Archaeology computer tech
Avshalom Karasik developed the program. Photo by Emil Salman

Pottery shards (or sherds, if you prefer) are the most common piece of archaeological evidence found at most dig sites. So when I ran across an article about a group that was using technology to try to recreate three-dimensional digital images of pottery from shards in Israel, I found it exceptionally interesting. The computer scans the existing shard, and then figures out the direction it lay within the pot. From there, it compares possible pots by known artists of the time period, eventually coming up with a likely configuration for the pottery.

The human touch is still necessary for identification. For instance, the computer can't necessarily place the piece within the correct time period - for that, an archaeologist is required. But the technology may hold clues to the past, and help historians and archaeologists understand more about life. I will continue to be fascinated by the the process of turning raw earth into functional, hard ceramic - and every time I spin my kick wheel, I will think of all the millions of potters who have come before me.

To see my (decidedly NOT ancient) pottery, check out my Etsy site, Big Sky Artworks.

No comments:

Post a Comment