Where archaeology and geo engineering meet

Dominique Ngan-Tillard, researcher Geo Engineering at Delft University of Technology, works together with archaeologists from Leiden University and staff of the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency. She undertakes the micro-structural analysis of the archaeological soils that archaeologists have dug up, using X-ray micro-computed tomography. At some occasions, she also investigates the inner structure of archaeological artefacts. The micro-CT scans and the analysis of two such artefacts are now available in het archief van 4TU.Centre for research Data.

The set concerns two frothy glass beads found in an urn-field in Zutphen, the Netherlands. The beads were manufactured in the Early Iron Age. At that time, glass was rare in the Netherlands. Usually archaeologists look with microscopes at the outside of such an artefact. Dominique was given the permission from the depot to make micro-CT scans to constitute a form of virtual preservation of the ornaments.

Dominique Ngan-Tillard

The raw data (1440 images) and the interpretation are now available in the data repository of 4TU.ResearchData. To make the data more understandable, visible and attractive, a short video (mp4 file) is made with an explanation and a 3D visualisation of the scans.


Archaeologists from all over the world will be able to consult the virtual collection online for artefacts comparison and further morphometric analysis. Instead of having to go through lengthy demands and long travels to inspect the collections at museums and depots, the data is right at the tip of your finger. This will allow a better understanding of various aspects of our cultural heritage such as intra-cultural exchanges along ancient trading routes or the materiality of past funerary practices. Material scientists will be able to use the digital collection as a laboratory to quantify material degradation rates at a very long time scale. Museums will be able to access the collection and develop educative games based, for example, on pattern recognition intra- or inter-collections with the gaming industry for their young visitors.

In the future semi-transparent multi-colour 3D prints of the ornaments can be produced from the mesh of the inner and outer surfaces of the micro-CT models for a better understanding of the art of making glass and jewels. The creative industry interested in reviving old local jewelery styles and capturing cultural diversity in Europe can also use the virtual collection as source of inspiration. In brief, the digital collection can be exploited by many!


Most archeologic data in the Netherlands is deposited at the E-depot Dutch archaeology (EDNA) at DANS. Due to the size of this data , it was decided to deposit the raw data at the archive of 4TU.ResearchData. The two data repositories work closely together within Research Data Netherlands (RDNL) which made it easy to link the data in both repositories to each other.

Dominique found it straightforward to use the 4TU.ResearchData website. It was a matter of working together: Dominique documented the data and uploaded some descriptive data. In the meantime the staff at 4TU.ResearchData uploaded all the data files.

In this case Dominique had already published about the data, so there is a link from the data to her publication. But next time Dominique wants to have the link both ways and be able to refer to the dataset in her publication. For this she can either upload the data beforehand or make a reservation for a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) which she can use in the publication. While waiting for the publication to be reviewed and published she can get the data ready for publication.

Dominique: “To conclude, storing digital collections of archaeological remains together with their meta-data and interpretation in the 4TU.ResearchData archive will help to promote the use (and re-use) of science-based techniques and technologies in modern research in the field of arts and archaeology.
The digital collections will generate, new, more innovative challenges for our knowledge!”

Cover image by Peter H via Pixabay 

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