Documenting the Dir Museum collection: Mission Accomplished

When the team returned from Pakistan last May, they brought back – carefully packed in suitcases – five external hard drives containing several copies of photos of sculptures they had set to document in the Dir Museum. After three weeks of hard (and fun!) work, the last batch of 500 objects was digitized, almost 70 sculptures were 3D scanned and all the quality control boxes were checked. The last digitization campaign was a success and we have now documented the whole collection! This win did not come easily. Indeed, in September 2022, we had to cancel our fieldtrip (you can read about it here), and we had to activate our contingency plan – a remote digitization campaign monitored from Bochum – in order to keep the DiGA Project going and guarantee the completion of the digitization of the collection.

A cancelled fieldtrip – and a successful remote digitization campaign

Setting up a remote campaign was a possibility already anticipated when the project was drafted. Considering the area where the DiGA Project operates as well as the extraordinary circumstances of the years 2020-21, alternative work plans were designed to include measures of risk management in the event of a recrudescence of Covid-19 pandemic with renewed travel restrictions.

The DiGA Team on their way to Swat.

It was thus crucial to be able to resort to a plan B to obtain high quality 2D images of the sculptures in case an unfortunate scenario would come true. Being able to rely on our partners was the key to face such a challenge. Thanks to the precious help of our partners at the KPDOAM and the Digital Heritage Center, we could swiftly launch a remote digitization campaign. Starting last February, a team lead by Dr. Ali Arshad (Digital Heritage Center) carried on the digitization of ca. 300 artifacts. Every week-end for two months and a half, the Pakistani team traveled 135 km to Chakdara from Peshawar where they are normally based, a trip that takes over 3 hours. In strict cooperation with the Dir Museum staff, they pulled out the artifacts to digitize from the storage, and following the DiGA guidelines that Cristiano Moscatelli had prepared, they worked using a movable photo studio (light box). The Digital Heritage Center photographer, Saqlain Haider, did a great job with professionalism, accuracy and, also, enough patience to follow Cristiano’s instructions from afar. One of the main challenges of a remote digitization campaign was to ensure that the new photos which will feed into the database heidICON match the others in both appearance and quality. Consistency was achieved by organizing a few trials, discussing issues in a series of Zoom meetings and refining the guidelines accordingly.

The KPDOAM staff at work for the remote digitization campaign, that was conducted during the cold winter, Dir Museum, Chakdara.

Back in Pakistan for the second fieldtrip

Following this winter remote campaign, we traveled to Chakdara in April with the aim to complete the digitization campaign. Once more, being able to achieve this ambitious project would not have been possible without the help of our Pakistani partners. Dr. Abdul Samad, Director of KPDOAM, appointed Mehran Ashraf as KPDOAM representative, an archaeologist we had the opportunity to cooperate with in the past. He was also a member of the remote digitization campaign team and we admired him for his professionalism and dedication. We were also joined in Chakdara by Saqlain Haider, the KPDOAM photographer, who once more offered a much appreciated contribution to the successful outcome of the project. Mehran Ashraf also joined forces with Cristiano and Saqlain in the last week of our fieldtrip.

From the left: Cristiano, Saqlain and Mehran at their photographic posts, Dir Museum, Chakdara.

This year, Dr. Călin Șuteu, an archaeologist specialized in the photographic documentation of cultural heritage, traveled with us to scan objects for 3D modeling. Bringing his metrological grade blue laser scanner to Chakdara, he managed to document 68 sculptures and generate fresh data for the scholarly community. It was also a great opportunity for him to share the scanning technique with our Pakistani partners. As Mehran Ashraf, KPDOAM representative, said, assisting Călin and being able to receive his generous explanations first-hand was an exciting learning experience. In his words: “3D scanning is a new technique for me, and learning it will help me in my professional career. I am interested in learning 3D scanning to gain proper expertise and establish this practice in Pakistan”. 3D scanning in Chakdara was therefore a great learning occasion, not only for the local staff but also for the rest of the DiGA team.

3D modelling of a Bodhisattva statue, Dir Museum, Chakdara.

Passing on: Knowledge transfer in DiGA

Knowledge transfer is one of the strongholds of DiGA’s cooperation with KPDOAM, and our trip was also an occasion to offer a workshop in Heritage Photography co-organized with the Digital Heritage Center of KPDOAM. About twenty participants joined us in the Peshawar Museum to attend the workshop lead by Călin Șuteu. The participants were introduced to the basic principles of digital photography for cultural heritage documentation. They learned how to use a digital camera, discovered the different types of lenses and their applications, and received theoretical and practical instruction in the main principles of computational photography methods and techniques. They were then invited to practice in the Peshawar Museum and its beautiful gardens.

We can finally say that the photographic documentation phase has been successfully completed. And now what? Now we have plenty of fresh material to edit (thousands of pictures), descriptions and metadata to record in order to fully document the new artifacts and finally upload them to the heidICON database. Our goal to digitize the entirety of the collection of sculptures would not have been achieved without this collective effort. So hurray to Călin, Cristiano, Mehran and Saqlain and hurray to the KPDOAM-DiGA collaboration! We cannot stress enough the importance of such cooperation for the success of our digitization campaign. And our acknowledgment would not be complete if we did not mention the Italian Archeological Mission in Pakistan (MAIP). The logistic support and the scientific guidance we have once more benefited from made our stay in Swat not only (much!) easier, but also truly pleasurable.

Let’s pass the microphone to (one of) our partners!

At the end of the digitization campaign, we asked a few questions to Mehran Ashraf, field representative of KPDOAM during our last fieldwork and trusted collaborator of the DiGA Team. We wanted his opinion and advice on the work done together and we’re sorry if the interview sounds like self-praise!

Jessie Pons and Mehran Ashraf in the garden of the Dir Museum, Chakdara.

Q: How does it feel to be the intermediary between the German and the Pakistani team?

A: It was an excellent experience to be an intermediary between teams. It was a also a learning experience, since it was a first. Moreover, I also felt good being intermediary as I represented my Directorate and country. Before the arrival of DIGA team I was so worried about the management of all required services. But after getting in touch with the DIGA Team, everything was perfect and easy to do.

Q: So far did you find your experience of cooperation with the DiGA team fruitful?

A: For sure it was an amazing experience to engage and cooperate with different people which were part of the DIGA team. The DIGA team is learned and experienced in the relevant fields, very cooperative and quite friendly in nature. And, so far, I haven’t noticed anything that bothered me!

Q: You were already part of the team that took care of the remote digitization campaign last winter, how was working with us “remotely” in compared to this field cooperation?

A: During the digitization campaign we received guidelines online and our task was very straightforward: taking pictures. Working together in person adds a lot to the experience, especially regarding the learning opportunities. For future cooperative work I would prefer to join the DiGA team here in person, rather than a remote campaign. But in case when we don’t have any other option, we can work again together remotely!

Q: Can you please briefly comment on the overall experience so far? Would you like this to be a longer-term cooperation?

A: First of all, I am very happy to get the opportunity to be a part of the innovative DiGA digitization campaign on behalf of Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This was my first experience with the DiGA team at Dir Museum Chakadara and this short time-period was so fruitful for me, I have learned many modern techniques of documentation, and I hope it will continue in the future. The DIGA Project needs to be implemented in all the museums of Directorate of Archaeology & Museums.

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We’ve been back from Pakistan for just a month and it’s been unusually difficult to settle back this time around. With the DiGA project slowly coming to an end, we’re looking at ways to prolong our our collaboration with our amazing partners in Pakistan, friends and colleagues. For the sake of scholarship of course!

The DiGA Team on their way back from Pakistan (from left: Călin, Jessie, Serena and Cristiano).



Cite this blog post
Serena Autiero (2023, June 22). Documenting the Dir Museum collection: Mission Accomplished. Digitization of Gandharan Artefacts. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from https://digartefacts.hypotheses.org/343

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