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Cultural Heritage Analysis for New GEnerations

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CHANGE (Cultural Heritage Analysis for New GEnerations)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

Objects of tangible Cultural Heritage (CH) inevitably change over time, demonstrating alterations to materials’ appearance, due to structural or chemical degradation, human interventions, or simply environmental deposits. Documenting, understanding, monitoring, and interpreting these changes are crucial to their preservation and the retention of their values.

The CHANGE project trains a new generation of 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) towards a common goal – assessing the changes of tangible Cultural Heritage using state-of-the-art multimodal imaging techniques in complement to the more traditional analytical techniques. Novel methodologies for data registration, image processing and visualisation are implemented directly on CH objects to characterise and evaluate degradation processes and conservation-restoration treatments. The project aims to take Cultural Heritage digitisation to a new level by exploring digital datasets for deeper analysis and interpretation.

The main scientific objective of CHANGE is to develop a methodology to assess and monitor any change to which Cultural Heritage artefacts are faced during their exposure to the atmosphere and their conservation treatments. It requires a multiscale and multimodal approach in both acquisition and processing of data collected, and harmonization and unification of processing protocols. The new IT technologies to develop will require new knowledge and expertise that this project will provide, and that the field is lacking at present.

CHANGE focuses on several key objectives through the following three work packages:

- Multiscale and multimodal strategies and systems for change capture and tracking of Cultural Heritage assets
- Computational methods for change studying (characterization, visualisation and monitoring) of Culture Heritage assets
- Application: Change during the alteration and conservation of Cultural Heritage artefacts.
This report covers the first two years of the CHANGE project period. About six months into the project period, most of the Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) were recruited and currently 14 ESRs have dived into their individual projects covering topics like capturing changes in the appearance of cultural heritage objects’, using imaging techniques to document the changes, and measuring the quality of the digitization. Registration methods and analysis of the images are also important aspects in monitoring changes in cultural heritage objects. Midway into their three years projects, their work has been demonstrated through several publications and presentations at various conferences. An example of this to present here, ESR5 has recently published a paper looking into the challenges of displacements in surfaces of cultural heritage objects caused by relative humidity (RH), with the aim of creating an affordable tool with significant potential for monitoring of cultural heritage objects to ensure their safety and digitization. The paper is called “3D digital image correlation system for monitoring of changes induced by RH fluctuations on parchment".

The application of imaging techniques can provide methods for analysing how the object changes over time, and a digital representation of an object can enable scholars to spend more time with it without having to expose it to elements that could accelerate its degradation. Different imaging technologies can reveal information and patterns that aren’t visible to the naked eye. When taking an image of a textured object, sometimes shadows make it difficult to see all details. Currently, ESR8 is working with an imaging technique called “Reflectance Transformation Imaging”, allowing the generation of images with light from many different angles, trying to overcome this challenge. Recently, ESR8 has published a paper where the fellow estimates the best light positions for this technique, the paper is titled “Next Best Light Position: A self configuring approach for the Reflectance Transformation Imaging acquisition process”.

Digitization of stained-glass windows is also an important challenge. The stained glasses are transparent, they can easily reflect light, and they are often placed far up in the historical building they are part of – all aspects that make it challenging for imaging. ESR1 is looking deeper into this and has recently published the paper named “Potential and Challenges of Spectral Imaging for Documentation and Analysis of Stained-Glass Windows”.

These three mentioned papers are just a taste of the ongoing research in CHANGE. More papers are already published, and several are submitted and will be published soon. All CHANGE publications are available here: https://change-itn.eu/dissemination/publications/.

During the first two years, the ESRs of CHANGE have received training in documenting Cultural Heritage artefacts using imaging techniques, multivariate data analysis as well as change measurement. In addition, they have received training in transferrable skills important for their research careers, like research ethics and project management. This was conducted in three training schools, one in Paris 6 months into the project, one in Norway in month 10, and a virtual school starting in month 19. All ESRs have set up a personal career development plan as well as a data management plan with focus on generating open data, increasing the possibilities of exploitation of the CHANGE results.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging some of our planned work. The ESRs have planned several stays (secondments) with different project partners that have been delayed.
Digitisation and analysis are important practices in the cultural heritage sector; however, it needs more in-depth and standardised tools/strategies for perform accurate documentation and further exploitation of the data. The needs and expectations of Cultural Heritage actors have evolved profoundly over the past decades by highlighting the alteration phenomena and their monitoring versus time. Detection, monitoring and characterisation of changes in Cultural Heritage artefacts requires the need to collect precise information on both shape and appearance changes. This not only helps to understand the mechanisms developed but also to control them better to minimize the changes. The CHANGE project will cover the knowledge needed to do perform change analysis based on a multi-modal approach that can be applied at various scales, guided by the needs of Cultural Heritage actors and proposes an interdisciplinary and rich framework to train Early Stage Researchers (technology, methods, and conservation/ restoration knowledge).By the completion of the CHANGE-ITN project, we expect to strengthen the EU´s innovation capacity and contribute to the cultural heritage sector by developing innovative tools and methods for cultural heritage digitisation and analysis. In the CHANGE project, we will develop new models and methodologies adapted to multimodality for change study. CHANGE-ITN will prepare a new generation of multi-skilled experts specialised in the study and monitoring of changes on Cultural Heritage objects.
Before and after cleaning an altarpiece. Image courtesy: University of Oslo
The CHANGE group in front of Munch's painting 'The Sun' in the Aula of University of Oslo..