Interview met Linda Hurcombe uit Exeter


Door Gijs Klompmaker

“You’re not replacing the museum, you’re advertising it”

Senior Lectorer at the University of Exeter, Linda Hurcombe, visited the Hunebedcentrum in Borger ( NL), as a staff exchange in the Open Arch Project. She talked about how to use new technologies into archaeology and museums. New technologies such as 3D-printing

Your interest in archaeology started a way before you went to study, at an young age. How come?

I always had an interest in objects, because we lived in the outskirts of Bristol. When we dug into our garden, for potting plants for example, we found little fragment of clay pipes and pottery and such. I collected them. I also realised that I wanted to use my head as well as my hands. I wanted to do scientific things but had an interest in art. Archaeology allows you to do a range of things; it’s a little bit arts, a bit of science and it’s a little bit practice.


The Open Arch project started in 2011 and ends in December 2015. What is the role of the University of Exeter?

We are the only university in this project. Together with our partner Kiriki from Finland we are particularly responsible for the work package known as “the dialogue with science”. That’s a good subject for us to tackle. That dialogue is something we engage with every day.  I’ve used a lot of experimental work in my research and also I’ve seen how well it works with students and as a communication tool.
Each partner has a special responsibility. It fits us and I think we can make a valuable contribution to it.

It’s my first time in Borger. I wanted to come and see it, because I heard a lot about the Hunebedcentrum. We also focus on the use of new technologies in the presentation of experimental research to the public. For example, my research project focuses on touch and bringing touch into museum- experiences. In a part of that we looked at modern technologies such as 3D-printing, that proved to be tremendously successful with the public trail. I wanted to come here, bring the objects and have a dialogue with the people here. They’re interested in new technologies and that is why this is an excellent staff exchange.


3D printing is all about touch?

We’ve been using a range of different approaches for different audiences. We used crafted replica’s, which gave a good idea of the object, with al it’s strength and colour. 3D-printing does something slightly different, it gives you as near as it can an exact copy of an ancient subject as it currently exist. You can have a direct copy, you can hold the ancient object without damaging it. That works because you can try to look at it in more detail.

What is the real significance of 3D printing for archaeological museums?

It has  many applications. For a start, you don’t have to worry breaking the ancient object. The object suggests other possibilities. We have some objects with fine details on the surface, we gave it to children so they can put some powder on the surface and brush it to reveal the design. It’s their moment of discovery.

We had a 3D scan of a stone model for making metal axes in the past. We lent it out to a class of ten year old schoolchildren, who studied the bronze age, as a topic. They made replicas of axes, painted them and were really engaged with the past. They put blood on the edges to show that it was an axe which was really usesd. So if they see something in a museum, they will know what the purpose of the object was. They now know the process of bronze casting.

It’s not just a museum thing?

We got museum curators from Scotland, who work in very small museums. They used a big bag, put the museum in it and took it to a classroom. The kids loved it and told their parents. So it’s also a way of advertising the past, the treasures of museums. Which is an interesting idea I think.
It would be fun to print a “Trechterbeker (Funnelbeaker)” and see if it’s good for drinking. So you’re not replacing museums, you’re advertising them.


What do you think about the Hunebedcentrum?

It has got many different aspects.. I like the outside “hunebed” ( red. dolmen ) and you got the outside experimental buildings and areas. As well as such fantastic resources inside the museum. The relationship between the archaeology that’s presented inside and the archaeology presented outside is beautifully intertwined. The presented pottery is stunning. The mueseum gives you the flesh on the bones, a dolmen is only a shell of course.

In which direction lies the future of this museum?

I think in the way it is working with old and new technologies. And it’s all about showing the context of objects, for example by building outdoor buildings, which will provide venues for performing some craft skills of the past. These are being intertwined with new technologies and with a great deal of thinking how to present these new technologies. In order to be current, museums have to experiment with modern technologies. Audiences do change, and I think we are in the middle of a big shift in how people react to their phones and such. It has to see the advantages of new technologies.

In 2015, the Open Arch project is ending. Will the cooperation between the partners end too?

No, you forged alliances and friendships. You understand possibilities and difficulties of the other partners. It helps you in your own research and future plans and projects This is a springboard rather than an end.

What do you seek in the cooperation for the university of Exeter?

I like to understand how the ideas that you generate as a researcher, go down with the public. To follow that process through, not just as academic writing, but to make some practical experiments, show what something could have been in the past. To engage with people in that proces. Go down new paths in a public arena. To show them how much fun it is.

You had that dialogue as a child. With your surroundings. With the objects. So it’s important for you I guess?

I still have a fascination for objects. I still believe we can learn a lot from them. And I got to understand that in the past people were very connected with their surroundings. We can learn from that connection, for example in sustainably issues now a days.

About the open Arch Project

OpenArch is a five year Cultural project with 11 partners, based on EXARC’s key strengths – its supportive community and international perspective. It builds a permanent partnership of archaeological open-air museums, raising standards among participants and improving the visitor experience across Europe.

About Linda Hurcombe

Linda Hurcombe has a broad interest in artifacts and material culture studies. She is especially interested in ethnographies of craft traditions, the sensory world of prehistoric societies and the manner in which archaeologists and anthropologists approach artifact studies. She has also worked on gender and material culture, and explored function as a concept as well as conducting functional analysis of stone tools via wear traces. Her research is characterized by the extensive use of experimental archaeology and ethnographies, providing a detailed practical understanding of how materials can be transformed into material culture. Fieldwork projects have been undertaken in Europe and Pakistan and in recent years she has worked with a variety of craftspeople. She has just published a book with Routledge on Perishable Material Culture in Prehistory: investigating the missing majority. Her work on two related interdisciplinary projects on Touch experiences in museums using a variety of media has just led to a joint paper for the international Human Computer Interaction conference which has received acclaim as the ‘best paper’ for the whole conference of c 1500 papers.


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