Faculty-Undergraduate Research Partnership Spotlight
CLARC – Ancient History and New Technologies Come Together in CLARC’s New Research Agenda
In the Classical Artifact Research Collection (CLARC), Brandeis undergraduates are given opportunities to work with both ancient artifacts and cutting-edge technologies.
Through an internship program within the CLARC, students are encouraged to create their own research projects, working hands-on with artifacts. The CLARC includes more than 800 artifacts: ceramics, glass, statuary, jewelry, and coins from the ancient Mediterranean. The artifacts date from the Bronze Age to the Byzantine period and provide the Brandeis community with a unique lens through which to study ancient history. Joshua Aldwinckle-Povey (CLARC intern ’20-21) notes that, "Before becoming a CLARC intern, I had only ever studied history through texts and through others’ interpretations. Working directly with material culture has given me a new way to tell the stories of human history and there are many to be found in CLARC's collection!"
While CLARC boasts an impressive permanent collection, recent acquisitions provide interns with further opportunities to interact with material culture hands-on. This summer, Dr. Alexandra Ratzlaff (Classical Studies), the director of CLARC, established an agreement with the Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima Project and Drew University to bring an assemblage of Roman ceramics to Brandeis. This material, which consists of more than 5,000 ceramic fragments will allow Brandeis students to gain unique insight into the process of archaeological study as they work alongside Dr. Ratzlaff to document, interpret and eventually publish the ceramics. This new collection of pottery is the basis of a course being offered for the first time in Fall ’21, “Pots, Processes and Meanings: A Practicum in Archaeological Ceramics.” In this course, both graduate and undergraduate students work to analyze, document and curate the pottery.
Each year, the CLARC undergraduate interns develop thematic projects on targeted groups of artifacts. The final product of their research and analysis is the curation of a museum exhibit displayed in the Brandeis library. In the Spring ’20 semester, four new displays were installed in the library. The exhibitions are entitled “Roman Coins”, “The Utility of Ancient Artifacts Represented Through the Physical Senses”, “Linear A and Cyrus Gordon” (in cooperation with the Brandeis Archives), and “Artifacts of Luristan.” Draken Garfinkel (CLARC Intern ‘20-22) conducted research on a group of metal and ceramic artifacts from the ancient region of Luristan (modern Iran). Of his experience working in CLARC, Draken says, “As researchers we combine data from disparate sectors and synthesize it into meaningful conclusions: One time to identify a certain axe-head I checked out books on ancient artifacts from Goldfarb, reviewed the collections of museums online, and read excavation reports from nearly 80 years ago...in one day. It amazes me how much of the data we seek is already out there, just waiting to be connected properly.”
Graduate students are also encouraged to work in CLARC. Nicole Constantine (MA ’22) is the Graduate Supervisor of the collections, and her role includes overseeing interns’ research projects. “For graduate students,” Nicole says, “CLARC provides a unique opportunity for pedagogical growth, as we learn how best to support students' interests and help them to create meaningful research projects within the collection. During weekly check-in meetings with the interns, we hear about the progress of everyone’s research and share ideas for how to expand our research goals.”
Along with more traditional methods for studying artifacts, students in CLARC are also trained to use a variety of technologies to photograph and 3D model the artifacts they study. According to Constantine, “In CLARC, we explore best practices for the 3D documentation of artifacts, including photogrammetry, structured light and laser scanning. We have the flexibility to design different methodologies and experiment with a wide variety of tools.” The 3D artifact models created by students will be featured in a Virtual Reality CLARC Museum, which will launch this winter. The VR Museum will allow anyone to tour the collections and interact with the artifacts, creating a accessible, immersive experience. Jalon Kimes (CLARC Intern ’20-22) is designing dynamic VR scenes in which the artifacts will be displayed, “I would describe my learning experience as a CLARC intern has been a very exploratory one. As the VR specialist, once we decided on a goal for each part of the project, I have the freedom to explore and learn about many different methods for achieving the final product. My 3D modeling and texturing skills have continually improved throughout this internship. I have also learned more about the architecture and materials used to create these environments.”
Alongside her role as director of CLARC, Dr. Ratzlaff also serves as the Project Lead for the Brandeis Techne Group, an interdisciplinary team of scholars and researchers working to study the digital imaging and 3D modelling of archaeological materials.
The Techne Group includes members of the Research Technology and Innovation Department - Ian Roy, Tim Hebert and Hazal Uzunkaya - as well as Brandeis graduate student Nicole Constantine and Jalon Kimes, an undergraduate student and CLARC intern. Since 2019, the Techne Group has held a residency at Boston Autodesk Technology Center. Since COVID-19 prevented the Techne Group from accessing the excellent resources available to them at Autodesk, Dr. Ratzlaff organized the loan of a Faro Laser Scanning Arm to CLARC in Fall ’20. With this technology, the Techne team was able to 3D model a variety of CLARC artifacts that are difficult to model using other methods. The 3D models produced with the Scanning Arm will be displayed in the virtual reality museum, and the project allowed the Techne Group to further explore best practices for 3D modelling a variety of ancient materials.
CLARC is looking forward to a year of interesting and engaging projects with a new cohort of interns. Dimbiniaina Raveloson (CLARC Intern ‘21-22) shares his excitement about the upcoming year, “I thought working in CLARC would be the best of both worlds. The classics courses I have taken in the past year has encouraged me to put my learnings to practice and work hands-on with the information I learned. I am interested in learning about the technologies currently used to date and analyze artifacts. I am also interested in working hands-on with material culture to identify patterns and themes to understand these artifacts and the people who used them.” Sasha Astrof (CLARC Intern ‘21-22) shares this excitement - “I think working with artifacts first-hand is amazing -- it feels like I'm going to touch history, and by working with the physical artifacts, I am also getting to leave my mark.”