Roman Silchester in 3D

Reading Museum is reimagining how people explore and engage with objects by broadening access to the collections. In this blog you can read about a new project to 3D scan objects for handling in the Silchester Gallery. 

As part of the Museums Partnership Reading the museum has opened up its collections to community groups to help identify objects to digitise.  

We worked with young people from Berkshire Vision and refugees in Reading supported by Care4Calais. The project aims to work with communities who are less engaged in the museum's work. We took one group to the museum stores to see behind the scenes and gave a unique handling experience to the other group, helping us select which objects to scan.

Why handling objects?

The Museum’s ethos is to preserve objects for perpetuity, but this goes along with using objects for education, display and research. We would like to provide replica objects to touch in cases where the originals may be too precious or delicate to handle. The artefacts in the Silchester collection were excavated from the Roman and Iron Age town, dating to between 2000 and 1600 years old, and made of a variety of materials. 

We hope object handling in the gallery with 3D replicas will bring the objects to life without risk to the original artefacts. 

Handling objects engages the visitor with the collection, encourages physical interaction and leads to conversation. We hope that it will also enhance participation and make the museum less intimidating.

Roman objects selected for 3D scanning

We spoke to audiences to see what they would like to see and touch, asking them what they think it’s important the museum considers. 


“Whole objects are better as its hard for visually impaired to imagine full objects – fragments should come alongside full reconstructions.” 

“Objects in cases are not accessible at all to visually impaired visitors.” 

“Large, detailed objects are easier than small, detailed ones.” 

“It’s easier to understand a tile with clear set of prints than one with a variety of footprints.” 

“Objects don’t need to be complete. A broken object shows its organic. It’s a sign that it’s been used.”

Community members - 2023 A6841C61-ACD8-4C22-BA6A-1DA1EACB60AA

Through conversations we learnt that it is better to place the objects side-by-side for comparison and try to recreate the original texture and weight of the artefacts. 

What is 3D scanning?

We worked with Steven at ThinkSee3D who uses photogrammetry to capture the objects. Photographing the objects from multiple viewpoints above and below to record the entire artefact. He then turned the images into 3D digital models and rendered them to look realistic. 

pottery bowl with scale decoration
Roman pot (object number REDMG : 1992.1.324)

Roman pot with scale decoration

See the 3D scan pot on Sketchfab here

iron key
Roman key (object number REDMG : 1995.96.48)

Roman key

See 3D scan of the key on Sketchfab here

pottery tile with dog paw prints
Tile with footprints (object number REDMG : 1995.98.59)

Tile with dog paw prints

See 3D scan of the tile on Sketchfab here

pottery bowl with food remains inside
Roman mortarium (object number REDMG : 1992.1.1611)

Roman mortarium

See 3D scan of the mortarium on Sketchfab here

brass brooch with red and green enamel
Enamel brooch (object number REDMG : 1995.2.336)

Enamel brooch

See 3D scan of the brooch on Sketchfab here

red pottery bowl
Samian ware bowl (object number REDMG : 1995.81.1)

Samian ware bowl

See 3D scan of the bowl on Sketchfab here

spoon made of bone
Bone spoon (object number REDMG : 1995.86.87)

Bone spoon

See 3D scan of the spoon on Sketchfab here

What happens next?

Now the objects have been 3D scanned we can enjoy the digital models. Check out Sketchfab to see and play with the objects digitally. Through sharing digitally in the Open-Source world, people can also use the models in other digital outputs. 

The next step will be to print out the 3D models to create physical replicas for handling. The great thing about modern 3D printing is that objects can be made in materials similar to their original material. 

Whilst these objects are not ‘authentic’, they are expanding the museum’s use of new technology. We will test these replicas in the gallery to see if they offer a sense of the original object.