Two Worlds Collide: Technology and Ancient History in Museums

Recently, more and more museums have been utilizing digital aspects to improve the public viewing of ancient history artifacts and other wares. These digital aspects can include the creation of replicas via 3-D printing, and uploading detailed models of artifacts or other objects from a museum onto a website for convenient public viewing. However, there are other ways in which technology can play a part in the otherwise traditional museum environment. An exceedingly popular example is how technology is used within museums to better describe the history and significant of certain artifacts, to better display the minute structural details of artifacts, or to otherwise inform and guide visitors throughout the museum in order to let them see what they want without getting lost or confused.

Could it be that introducing more technology in to museum environments would offer an overall positive effect for visitors since it could appeal to those who appreciate the traditional, the modern, or even both? In the city of Oviedo, Spain, where I have previously lived for three months, the museum section of the Cathedral of Oviedo offers a wonderful connection between medieval history and modern technology, and between different languages as well.

ancient history
Part of the Cathedral’s interior constructed far before electricity was ever even harnessed.

Looking from the outside at the cathedral with a mix of old gothic and Romanesque architectural features, one wouldn’t expect any kind of technology to be found within it, but after passing through the main section of the Cathedral of Oviedo, consisting of many pews, huge gold-leafed religious iconography, and the altar, there is another half of the building which consists of the museum, containing a surprising amount of digital apparatuses to help inform visitors.

Ancient History and Tech

Part of the museum displays old medieval and renaissance artwork, and another part consists of a small, secure area which displays medieval artifacts of historical and religious significance local to the region of Asturias, in which the city of Oviedo resides. The section of the museum that houses the artworks does not have many technological aspects, but the section housing the artifacts and the way to get there has plenty of digital aspects with which visitors can interact.

One of the ways to reach the secure room in which the old artifacts are held is through a curving corridor where many painted statues of saints are mounted within niches in the walls. In this corridor, there are shelves with lightbulbs made to look like candles dedicated to different saints, and in order to light one of the “candles,” one must pay a quarter and one of the candles would immediately light up. Across from the electronic candles and nearer to the artifact room, there are interactive computer screens set up throughout the corridor which offer information about each of the artifacts that can be found in the secure room of the museum. In addition to information, the computers allow visitors to closely see the details of the artifacts via 3-D virtual models which slowly rotate.

A relic of the Cathedral known as the Ark which contains a blood-stained cloth believed to have shrouded Jesus Christ.

The information offered from these computers are initially in the Spanish language, but there are options that allow the user to change the language to English, German, and other languages. This allows a much larger amount of people to have access to the information and history that the museum and its artifacts have to offer. Finally, when arriving at the secure chamber, the few artifacts can be viewed from behind iron bars, with another interactive computer screen on the viewing side offering yet more information about the artifacts. Even though people cannot get very physically close to the real artifacts, the interactive screens are able to provide enough information and detail that can make people feel that they know the items exceptionally well.

Overall, introducing technology to ancient history and the traditional museum environment I believe is a great idea, primarily because it can offer more information to visitors and provide them with details that couldn’t be studied without technology. Technology can help improve displays and the historical significance of artifacts by displaying them in ways that are more accessible to a wider range of people.

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