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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Academics & Research

UH professors to unveil digital exhibit of ancient Syrian coins


Peggy Lindner and Kristina Neumann plan to launch their digital exhibit on ancient Syrian coins this summer, allowing for access to their scholarly research by the general public. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Two UH professors presented their research on ancient Syrian coins and their plans for an interactive digital exhibit to display their findings in a presentation at the Digital Research Commons in the M.D. Anderson Library on Wednesday.

Assistant professor of history Kristina Neumann and research assistant and professor of mechanical engineering Peggy Lindner plan to release the digital exhibit this summer. One of their goals for the project is to provide access to their academic work to the public.

“Our overall goal here is not just to make another website with information,” Neumann said. “We have this larger goal about continuing to break down the barriers to scholarly research and to continue promoting accessibility of scholarly research to a much wider audience.”

Project origins

The idea for the project came from Neumann’s curiosity over how coins from Antioch, an ancient city located in present-day Turkey, would end up in places as far away as Great Britain.

“If we investigate these discrepancies, we can start to reconnect to these different connections and changing relationships tying Antioch to the rest of its region and the rest of the empire,” Neumann said.

She compiled a list of around 300,000 coins from Antioch—found all over the Mediterranean region—in an Excel spreadsheet, later using Google Earth to help her visualize the data she had assembled, Neumann said.

“What I just needed was a quick and dirty way of just sorting through the data and visualizing it,” Neumann said. “It didn’t need to be technologically sophisticated. It didn’t need to be complicated – I just needed to see what patterns were there.”

While Neumann said Google Earth was by no means a perfect solution, it was free of charge and a simpler alternative to more advanced options like ArcGIS, an application for working with maps and geographical data frequently used in the archaeological field.

Neumann’s research and use of Google Earth to visualize her data went viral and was noticed by several news outlets like Yahoo News in the process.

“I quickly learned that there was a much wider interest in this research and topic beyond the (University of Cincinnati),” Neumann said. “I started to wonder, if there’s this much public interest, is it possible to start building a public digital outlet for my research on ancient Syria?”

Creating the visuals

After coming to the University of Houston, Neumann met Lindner, who was working with students on data-related topics at the Honors College and had previously worked in an image processing lab at the University.

“What she was talking about and what interested me were relationships,” Lindner said. “She asked me, ‘I need to explore these relationships, I need to explore them in a quantitative way, can you help me with that?’”

Neumann and Lindner came up with plans for the exhibit together, which would showcase all the coins and allow people to interact with their digital renditions and learn the history behind the artifacts.

“In (the project’s) final form, there will be two major parts,” Neumann said. “Part one will be an interactive and educational database where users will select a coin from this digital pile and then they can (make choices) in terms of the different attributes.”

Users will be able to filter coins by time period, type of metal, coin type or issuing authority.

Part two of the exhibit will involve implementing 3D scans of the coins, which will help people see them as moving artifacts rather than static images, Lindner said.

“The idea is to get a better impression of the artifact as an object because objects can move around, objects can have relationships with other things, so this is a first step towards that goal,” Lindner said.

History senior Olivia Garza said she had no idea what to expect from the lecture but knew she would learn quite a bit.

“(People) may one day, once this project gets more funding, type in ‘Antioch’ and may get a Google result that leads to the program they’re creating, and that just blows my mind,” Garza said.

Higher education and access to scholarly work is out of reach for many people and what Neumann and Lindner are doing is a great effort to bridge that gap and provide access to these academic resources to everybody, Garza said.

“With this project, each layer—we think, and we would argue—really adds to our understanding of ancient Syria, and we hope that it’s going to help draw attention to the tremendous mosaic of this region,” Neumann said.

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