Public Release: 

Pitoti Digital Rock-Art wins an EU Prize for Cultural Heritage

University of Cambridge

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IMAGE: Natural 3-D image. The proto-cinetmatic effect of early morning light the walking man, Pitoti on Foppe di Nadro 6. view more

Credit: Hamish Park/PPP.

The Prehistoric Picture Project PITOTI: Digital Rock-Art, was honoured in the research and digitisation category for its work between 2009 and 2013. It is an ambitious project focusing on the 3D scanning of rock art in Valcamonica, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Italian Alps. The project, led by Cambridge University with contributors from the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici, St Pölten University of Applied Sciences and the Bauhaus University Weimar, uses film, photography, dance, animation, music, 3D printing and scanning technology to record and re-present these open-air rock carvings, not only preserving the prehistoric images for posterity, but bringing them to life with real depth. Dr Baker commented, "This European award is a reward for the whole of the European interdisciplinary team of archaeologists, engineers and artists that created this project."

The winners are selected by independent, expert juries and are chosen as excellent examples of creativity, innovation, sustainable development and social participation in the heritage field throughout Europe.

The European Heritage Awards Ceremony, co-hosted by EU Commissioner Navracsics and Maestro Plácido Domingo will be held 24 May in Madrid. During the ceremony, the seven Grand Prix laureates, each of whom will receive €10,000, and the Public Choice Award winner, chosen from among this year's winning projects (vote online), will be announced.

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport stated, "I warmly congratulate the winners and their teams for their exceptional work. Thanks to their talent and commitment, numerous European cultural heritage treasures have been safeguarded and revitalised for the benefit of present and future generations."

Plácido Domingo, the renowned opera singer and President of Europa Nostra added, "All these award-winning achievements prove that heritage matters to Europe and its citizens. Cultural heritage is a driver for sustainable economic development and a cohesive force for our multicultural societies."

Dr Chippindale commented, "When new advances in archaeology are reported, we tend to think of new discoveries, a new painted cave or a newly found ancient golden tomb. But actually new advances in archaeology as often come from new methods, new approaches, and above all new ideas when they're applied to the classic and already famous known places. A radical transformation of our understanding Stonehenge has come about in the last decade that way."

"The Prehistoric Picture Project had the idea to apply the fast-changing technologies of digital graphics to invigorate, even to revolutionise the standard ways by which we study prehistoric art, combining the newest with the oldest insights and images from the oldest technologies in European graphics. The University of Cambridge has applied new technologies, but above all new thinking to the richest and most varied single body of prehistoric images in Europe, the many thousand ancient carvings in the north Italian region of Valcamonica, in the Alpine foot-hills."

Known as "Pitoti", a local dialect word for puppets, these are simple, but beguiling carvings with extraordinary graphics in a vast range of forms and depictions.

Dr Baker said "The Prehistoric Picture Project seeks to breathe life into the little puppets, which are not just data but the products of ancient artists. It therefore uses digital arts based research, where the artists of today test new ways of combining the digital arts, with performative cultural practices like dance, music and song. The world of film and computer graphics, combined with the skill of the field archaeologists, turns the camera and laser scanner into the trowels of the 21st century."

The team worked with Italy based Cambridge archaeologist Craig Alexander to understand the art's place in the landscape. Using the 3D images of the engravings, the team produced interactive exhibits and videos which aimed to make sense of the cinematic elements of this art, offering a new interpretation of the engravings which included movement, light and sound.

Dr Baker commented, "The valley can be seen in many senses of the word as, one big picture, made of thousands of individual details like a Breugel or a Lowry painting. But, it is also a 'Picture' in the American sense of film or movie.

That is because it is not hidden in a cave, but out in the open were the sun can create proto-cinematic effects, making individual images appear and disappear according to the time of day and the weather."

Exposed to the elements for thousands of years they are so eroded that often they are only clear when sunlight chances to shine across them at just the right angle.

Dr Chippindale added, "The exhibition included animated cartoons, not just because they brought to lively life the unmoving ancient pictures, but the work of making them also shook up our ideas of just what the prehistoric pictures depict." This exhibition element was in itself part of the research, the objective being the discovery of how these engravings could be understood by a modern audience.

The expert jury specifically commented on this element of the project stating, "The newly developed methods of presenting the rock art to an audience and of encouraging visitor interaction is commendable. The quality of the research is highly original and we found the combination of the oldest and newest forms of human graphic art captivating. We appreciated the exploration of the boundaries between classic research and the performing arts."

Between 2009 and 2013 the Prehistoric Picture Project produced one Media Opera, called "Echoes of the Echoes" using archaeoaccoustics, live music and dance and was performed at Beyond Text, Edinburgh University and European Researcher's Night, St Pölten University of Applied Sciences, Austria. The multi-media exhibition "Pitoti: Digital Rock-Art from Ancient Europe" attracted 25,000 visitors in one month to the Triennale in Milan and was covered by the national press when it came to Cambridge in February 2013. Dr Baker concluded, "This is an award for arts based research in the digital humanities. It uses the digital and performative arts to encourage both scholars and the public to examine the past through evidence-based historical imagination".

Exhibition Video in Italian - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sKEW3J0Zrg

Exhibition Review in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/mar/19/valcamonica-rock-carvings-animations

The research strand continues at Cambridge. After completing an ambitious development of hardware and software to record the full complexity of the figures in three dimensions in the EU funded FP7 project "3D-Pitoti", it is now taking a digital look at another aspect of the art.

Dr Chippindale stated, "A new direction is now being developed - colour in the painted rock art pictures, again barely known, little noticed and certainly never seen with the astonishing power of contemporary digital graphic methods. We are already seeing terrific results: sharp and clear images from the rocks, faded away and lost for centuries, can be made to jump into modern colour and near-modern clarity when transformed on the digital screen. Even at this early stage, we begin to find we can recover pictures from worn surfaces where nothing whatever is visible to the naked eye! Who knows what other of these, at present invisible figures are out there, ready to be captured and brought to life again by the right choice of digital miracles, thanks to our taking a radical view of what might make good archaeology!"

Dr Baker is currently completing "Pitoti Prometheus" the world's first 360-degree Virtual Reality film using rock-art and 3D scanning technology.

"The research is taking us from Proto-Cinema to Future Cinema, cutting out the 2000 years in between" concluded Dr Baker.

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More information is available from Dr Frederick Baker on fb346@cam.ac.uk or on +43-664-1811033.

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