3D scanning of medieval columns for digital museum collection

Digitization of the 13th and 14th century columns from the Cistercian monastery for the virtual collection of the National Museum in Szczecin



The collection of medieval relics is one of the oldes and the most valuable of the National Museum in Szczecin. A unique part of it is the group of column heads from the former Cistercian monastery in Kołbacz, which was built before 1270 and expanded in the years 1330-1340. They are one of the most famous art monuments in Western Pomerania- especially interesting being two of the chapiters, picturing the satirical and didactic genre scenes, referring to monks’ life.

The special meaning of the project was recalled by the historical context in which the column heads functioned- as the element of the sacred space, but most of all as works of art that today count for over 600 years- the witnesses of the Middle Ages, the creation of which is related to the incorporation of Pomerania into the structure of Christian Europe.


3D scanners for popularizing at-home cultural education


The National Museum in Szczecin has decided to create digital copies of five column heads to make them available in its virtual museum. This plan was implemented as a part of the www.muzeach project, which involves making digitally available to the public collections of five museums run or co-operated by the Polish National Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport.. Its main goal is to improve access to cultural resources offered by participating museums, and thus to facilitate and popularize at-home cultural education.


There are various methods of 3D digitization, and the choice of the right one depends directly on the purpose of its implementation. The project for the National Museum in Szczecin involved 3D scanning technology with the use of structured light. It is combining the handling ease of measuring equipment and the short time needed to generate the model.


The digitization project for the Museum was carried out by SMARTTECH with the use of the MICRON3D color scanner. This model is a perfect tool to precisely capture the shape of objects, as well as their color and texture.


The result of SMARTTECH and the National Museum in Szczecin's cooperation was the creation of perfect digital twins of all 5 amazing medieval stone art pieces. The challenges arising from their size, localization, and specific characteristic were overcome by choosing the best device that could capture the column heads perfectly, so the 3D models can be a source of information for generations of digital visitors and researchers.


3D scanning in color for the museum industry


An extremely important fact while working with artifacts is their safety during all the documentation procedures, that is why the Museum decided to use the structured light over laser scanners.


A single scan with SMARTTECH’s scanner can be performed in just a few seconds, which was another advantage for the Museum to as much as possible shorten the visitor limitation time needed to take the measures.Moreover, the use of a 3D scan eliminates the majority of dimentioningerrors that often occur in the case of archiving with traditional methods.


To create a 3D models of chapiter, it was necessary to obtain shape and color data from all sides of objects. As the stone columns are very heavy, they could not be moved. Their location in close proximity to each other and from the walls of the room did not allow free access from every side. Fortunately, all SMARTTECH scanners are equipped with tripods containing a mobile base and adjustable height. This allowed obtaining full scans of each chapiter, even in very hard-to-reach areas.

Acquisition of 3D data occurred by projecting white light fringes onto the object by the scanner projector. The device’s detector read the curvature of light rays in relation to the shape of the object, and information about its color. Then it transmitted them to the connected computer with the SMARTTECH3Dmeasure application installed.


SMARTTECH3Dmeasure - fast and easy 3D data processing

Processing the obtained data in a dedicated SMARTTECH3Dmeasure software does not require many hours of complicated work-basic computer skills are sufficient to achieve perfect results of an exact, detailed, sharp model. The need for just a short initial training for the SMARTTECH scanners operators is one of the reasons for the rapidly growing popularity of that solution among museums all over the world, including the National Museum in Szczecin.



As a result of the column heads scanning, point clouds were obtained. On its basis, 3D models in a form of a triangle mesh were generated. The 3D model is an exact reflection of the scanned object, so it can be used for digitization and in the process eternal archiving of the museum collection. The 3D models of scanned chapiters can be used in much more than just visualization for an online exhibition- the SMARTTECH3Dmeasure software has various measurement functions, so achieved digital twins can be used in research on artifacts, such as dimensioning, creating cross-sections, or calculating the surface area. The analysis of the data obtained this way can become a key element in research, leading for example to information about the production method.

Faithful digital copies of five medieval capitals from Kołbacz were placed in the digital database of the National Museum in Szczecin. In addition, the museum can use achieved 3D models for research and collaboration with other facilities around the world. This approach allows unlimited possibilities of artiacts’ data sharingand popularization or promotion, e.g. by creating 3D-printed copies of the collection elements. Thanks to the 3D models, all the goals stated in the „www.muzeach”project will be within the Museum’s reach.


3D models of digitized the column heads







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