Classics and Archaeology Virtual Museum

Report on Progress, 13 September 1998


Museum Opening

The Ian Potter Museum of Art was officially opened by the Premier, the Rt. Hon. Mr Kennett, on Tuesday 11 August. For the small Classics & Archaeology section we selected a representative sample of objects, carried them to the Museum, helped set them up in the cases, and contributed text for the accompanying information cards. The objects are still on display. We also took over a computer and set up a slide show of some 180 images of objects, bringing this computer back the following day. Some images and object movies were loaded onto the first iMac computer to be demonstrated in Australia, but unfortunately this had not been properly configured and the movies would not load (the computer was supplied only a few hours before the opening, and I was unavailable to set it up myself). Congratulations to staff of the Museum for their cool efficiency at a time of not inconsiderable stress.

back to top

Greek Vases

The text of the Catalogue of Greek Vases at the University of Melbourne has been delivered to a publisher. Discussions proceed with other publishers.

The text is based on Peter Connor's drafts, notes, exhibition catalogues and computer files, revised and supplemented by Heather Jackson in consultation with Elizabeth Pemberton, Ian MacPhee, John Oakley, John Boardman, Jean-Paul Descoeudres and many others.

The stolen MUV 16 has been omitted, but the other stolen vases (MUV 40, MUV 55) are included as they had been published by Peter Connor with photographs. MUV 68 is omitted, on Trendall's rejection of its authenticity. Thus, seventy six vases are included in the catalogue.

Recent Progress:

1. Heather Jackson (HJ) completed her draft of the text, which was maintained in a separate database until as late as possible.

2. Actual size inked profiles of about 40 shapes represented in the collection were prepared; images were made of these using a digital camera, and archived on CD.

3. HJ made a selection of images for each vase, choosing from some 600 available. All vases will be illustrated in the catalogue, some with more than one photograph.

4. To the database I added acquisition details. A study of original documents has allocated 21 vases to the Sutton Bequest (MUV 1-20, MUV 22), as well as 15 artifacts (MU 1-9, 11, 13-17). As a consequence, 21 vases or artifacts have been re-accessioned with 1929, 1930 or 1931 accession numbers, and the Museum paper records updated. MUV 45 has also been re-accessioned to its correct year of acquisition, 1975, based on discovery of the catalogue from which it was bought and a copy of the purchase order. In many other cases it was possible to identify the fund from which the vase was purchased - mostly Arts Faculty Equipment, but sometimes Department funds.

5. A draft layout was designed, with the vases grouped according to ware (which tends to overlap with chronology).

6. The relevant records were exported from the database in the desired sequence, with the appropriate fields in the desired order, and imported into MS Word. Tidy-up editing ensued, and styles were applied to the text to ensure consistency of format and flexibility during layout. The text was then printed and proof-read by both HJ and myself, corrections made, and a copy printed for the publisher.

7. As part of the preface to the catalogue, I wrote a brief history of the collection based on my own research and Peter Connor's papers. Other prefatory contributions were received from Timothy Potts and Frank Sear. HJ wrote brief introductions to each group of vases in the collection.

8. A summary list of the vases was drawn up, giving the shape, date and decorative characteristic of each vase, and cross-referencing the catalogue and MUV numbers. A link to the web version of this table can be found at The table has links to the available images of each vase; the images proposed for the print catalogue are separately identified, as are the inked profile images.

9. A CD was made of all the text and images, and delivered to a publisher. The images will remain in draft form until information is received from a printer about the colour calibration of the machine that will reproduce the photographs.

Footnote: During the process it was discovered that the wrong photographs had been attached to several of the Museum's paper records. Obvious errors were corrected, but the entire set of paper records should be checked.

back to top

Bairstow Coins

In 1974-5 Mr J L Bairstow donated a number of Greek and Roman coins which he had purchased in Turkey in the early 1960s. He requested that acknowledgement of the last of his donation be sent to his daughter and son-in-law, Mr and Mrs Burrows, as he was leaving for India the following day. Efforts to contact the family have been unsuccessful, though some leads could be explored further.

Examination of correspondence in the archives and the envelopes in which the coins are kept has revealed that:

1. Eight Bairstow coins had been included in the Roman series (R50, R63-R69) and, in 1993 (?), accessioned with 1974 accession numbers. Along with the rest of the Roman series, these were photographed in 1996 under the supervision of Peter Connor while I was overseas.

2. A further 6 Bairstow coins were kept with the Roman series in their original envelopes. These too were photographed in 1996, with a temporary identifying code included in the photograph. Recently it was discovered that, during the photography, Peter Connor had pencilled R85-R90 on the envelopes.

3. Two boxes containing a further 158 Bairstow coins were found in Peter Connor's room early in 1997.

Bairstow wrote that he had many of the coins identified in Athens, and others with the help of staff at the British Museum. In most cases the identity of the coin and a reference to published sources is written on the envelope.

Recent progress:

1. The information written on the envelopes has been entered into the coin database, which now has 746 entries.

2. With the assistance of Mr Chris Haymes, the remaining Bairstow coins have been assigned to the Greek and Roman series and given a G or R prefix. The Greek series now totals 253 (plus 58 Greek coins in the MES collection), while the Roman series totals 169 (plus 6 Roman coins in the MES collection).

3. There are 172 Bairstow coins in total, and all the Bairstow G and R catalogue numbers have been given a B suffix (following the model of the W and S suffixes used for Webb and Sutton coins respectively).

4. The remaining 158 Bairstow coins have been placed in self-sealing plastic bags with stickers marked with their catalogue numbers. The coins can thus be identified and inspected without being handled.

5. A special camera and lighting rig has been set up in the MEU studio, and a test has been completed to identify the lighting set-up that best highlights the features on the coins, many of which are very worn.

6. To guide the photographer, a sketch has been drawn to indicate which direction is 'up' on each face, and which face is 'heads' and which is 'tails'.

7. Photography is in progress. 35 mm slides provide the original medium, the catalogue number being included in the picture for permanent identification of the coin. The slides are scanned by Kodak on to a Photo-CD, which becomes the archive image; Kodak supplies a tiny print of all 100 objects per Photo-CD, which allows quick perusal of the contents. The Photo-CD has to be indexed, checking that the correct catalogue number has been included with the coin; the disk and image numbers are then recorded in the Image Database. Black and white negatives are also made from the slides, and from them are produced two contact prints, one for storing with the Museum's paper record, the other to be kept with the coins.

back to top

Electrotype Coins

In addition to the 100 electrotype copies of coins purchased in 1928-9 from the Sutton Bequest, there is a set of electrotypes with the two faces of each coin mounted separately on pins. The coins were pinned somewhat insecurely into rectangles of thick cardboard, arranged by geographical region, with information about each coin written in ink above or below the coin; there was further information in pencil in a later hand. The provenance of the electrotype pins remains a mystery.

Six boards numbered 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, each with 10- 15 coins, were found in 1996 in the locked drawers in the old Department Library on the 6th floor of the Medley building. The faces were catalogued, bagged and photographed in the second half of 1996. Boards 3, 6, 8 were discovered behind a cupboard on 17 March 1997. These three boards contain 61 faces from 32 coins. The total number of electrotype pins is thus 109, with 26 faces missing from 20 coins.

Recent progress:

1. The new electrotype pins have been included in the E series (E149-E180). All the information from the boards has been copied into the database, while near the pinhole on the boards has been pencilled in the E number, a and b, with a cross to indicate a missing side. Stray faces that have turned up in strange places have been matched to gaps in the boards.

2. The new pins have been removed from the boards and put in labeled plastic bags. Sketches are being prepared to guide the photographers. The few unphotographed 'strays' will be included in the photo session.

back to top

Footnotes to Coins

1. After it was officially wound up, the Melbourne Cyprus Expedition Fund continued to receive income from the sale of some publications through the MU Bookroom. There was $345 in this account on 14 October 1977. A small note recently adverted to in the Cyprus Expedition files revealed that, with appropriate permissions, $80 of this residuum was spent on 21.4.78 on 3 Roman coins: R73=1978.0120, R74=1978.0121 and R75=1978.0122.

2. Coin R70 was marked long ago as missing. In sifting through some old cards it was discovered that this had been classified and exhibited as G158; it appears thus in the 1971 Catalogue of Works of Art.

3. By 1995 the Gallery had recorded 268 coins, of which 258 had been given accession numbers. None had been entered into the Gallery database. These have now been included in the database. But 488 coins are yet to be accessioned.

4. The ten existing Photo-CDs of coins have now been indexed.

back to top

Object Movies

Very early in the project it was decided to aim for 100 object movies. With help from Antonio Sagona and MEU digital photographer David Adam, some 20 more 'photogenic' objects were chosen and transported to the studio for filming. 100 objects have now been filmed; one more vase will be added to the collection this week - a misunderstanding led to the filming of one object that had not been chosen, but we decided to keep it anyway.

For the Project the Multimedia Education Unit invested $20,000 in a special machine that rotates the objects horizontally and moves the camera up and down at specified intervals. About 300 images of each object are then stitched together to make the movie, which allows the viewer to rotate the object on the screen.

The initial files are of the order of 7-800 mb each, which edits down to between 4 and 24 megabytes, depending on the size of the frame on the screen. The initial files - too large for a CD - are edited on a 9 gb HD supplied by the Project, and then archived on 4 gigabyte DAT cassettes using the Project's own DAT drive. The edited movies will be archived on CD. Once this process is completed, the 9 gb HD will be used for editing still images, and the DAT drive pressed into service for backing up during editing. Once editing is complete, the edited high-resolution still images will also be archived on CD.

These are the first object movies that MEU has produced. The investment has been justified on strategic grounds, as the Unit is now producing object movies for a number of departments, particularly in the Faculty of Medicine, which is using them for on-line undergraduate teaching.

Being guinea pigs, however, has its disadvantages. As the studio space was needed for other purposes, we had to remove some 15 cartons of objects that we were hoping we would not have to move back to the storeroom but rather directly into the Ian Potter Museum. But we were not satisfied with all the movies produced to date, and it was been decided to film 15 of the objects again. This exercise involved unpacking the cartons in the storeroom to locate the objects, shelving the other objects and transporting the 'recalls' back to the studio, as well as updating the location field in the database - all rather time-consuming, as there is no clever way to get a computer to do this for you. But it does mean that the database should now hold the current location of every object in the collections.

Record keeping was not as reliable as it could have been, and several hours were spent viewing the movies to confirm that we knew which object was in each file, identified by the accession number of the object. Eleven mistakes were detected and corrected. At the same time we took into account the fact that some of the objects have recently been re-accessioned, and are now confident that all movies will be archived with the correct identifying file name.

It is anticipated that filming of object movies will be completed within two weeks, and editing and archiving of the movies within a month after that.

back to top

Near Eastern Collection

1. A small carton with three Near Eastern objects appeared mysteriously on the table in the storeroom. Two other boxes on the table give clues: it seems that, some time ago, Professor Bowman had a number of objects examined by the Chemistry Department for radiation dating. My guess is that the three objects were used as yard-sticks, as their date is fairly well established from the context in which they were found. All this is speculation, as they were recorded as missing after the exhaustive shelf check completed (finally!) in January this year. The objects are UM 1654, from Arad in Palestine, acquired in 1975; UM 1203, from Lachish, date of acquisition unknown; and UM 602, from Jericho Tomb D 12 acquired in 1960. These are the only objects from their respective sets recorded as having arrived and subsequently gone missing, and it is very gratifying that they have turned up. They will be accessioned and photographed in the next week or so.

2. Examination of the related object and image databases revealed that a number of Near Eastern casts had not been photographed. It turned out that we had managed to overlook the entire contents of one of the wall-mounted display cabinets in the Old Arts corridor outside the Archaeology Laboratory. These objects have now been transferred to Old Pathology and are being prepared for photography in what is hoped will be the final studio session for still images.

3. Discussion with Colin Hope, now at Monash, has revealed that he might have photographs of the two Egyptian stele. One of these stele is in Canberra, too fragile to be moved; the other is in the storeroom in such a debilitated condition that it was decided not to photograph it. Colin thinks his photographs might show what the stele looked like before they deteriorated.

back to top

Cypriot Collection

Sally Salter is writing up Cypriot objects that are unpublished and not derived from the Melbourne Cyprus Expedition. Some co-ordination problems arose when she wanted to look at some objects that had been taken to the studio for filming, but the problems were far from insurmountable. In any case, these objects are back in the storeroom and their locations recorded in the database. Preliminary discussions have been held with a view to importing her material into a database. I have provided a listing of the objects that I believe she should be working on, and look forward to further collaboration.

back to top


Archival research and communication with the Papyrological Centre at Oxford University revealed that the second set of five papyri were received in 1922. They have now been re-accessioned accordingly, and Museum paper records updated.

back to top

Data Entry

Work has commenced on entering details recorded during the stocktake completed in January. Some 850 objects are involved.

top of page