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3D technology creates high-resolution images of Colchester’s historic Roman Wall

Thanks to state-of-the-art imaging techniques
Date issued: 8 October 2020

The results of a major project to create an accurate 3D surface model of the Balkerne Gate have just been published.


The collaborative work – involving Colchester Borough Council, Colchester Archaeological Trust, BA Photography students from University Centre Colchester at Colchester Institute and archaeological imaging consultant Professor Dominic Powlesland – used cutting-edge technology to photograph and record the ancient remains for the first time, as part of the council’s Better Colchester campaign.

Work began in November 2019 but was unfortunately delayed by several months due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Now, thanks to state-of-the-art 3D imaging techniques, a high-resolution digital record of the Balkerne Gate and adjacent sections of the Roman Wall has been created and can be viewed online.

Photogrammetry technology provides a fast, compact and highly accurate method to survey, scan and record almost any asset or object, large or small. The resulting 3D model will support the long-term management, analysis, interpretation and presentation of the Roman Wall, serving as an accurate point-in-time record that can be revisited in the future to study alteration, erosion and damage.

Cllr Julie Young, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Performance and Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “Colchester’s Roman Wall – the oldest and longest-surviving town wall in Britain – is a key part of our rich heritage, worthy of everything we can do to protect, preserve, enhance and celebrate it as a major source of local civic pride.

“I would like to thank Professor Powlesland, the Colchester Archaeological Trust and students from Colchester Institute, for recording and future-proofing such a unique and irreplaceable monument. This, along with the other projects we have undertaken to promote our rich Roman heritage in recent years, really is making a Better Colchester.”

Professor Dominic Powlesland said: “It was a huge privilege to be asked to be part of this project. Colchester’s Balkerne Gate is the best-preserved Roman Gateway in Britain and to be able to generate an accurate 3D model using cutting edge technology to understand more about it, is incredible. Working with local students to understand more about their local heritage and equipping them with new skills is something to celebrate.”

Colchester Archaeological Trust’s Philip Crummy added: “Colchester’s Balkerne Gate is an iconic reminder of Colchester’s rich heritage. Nearly all the remains of Colchester’s Roman past lie hidden away beneath our feet, so it is hard to visualise what the Roman town would have looked like. However, the Balkerne Gate with its well-preserved sections of wall to either side is a precious example of the town’s Roman heritage that can be enjoyed at any time by everyone.

“Inevitably the gate and wall are gradually decaying as time passes. Degradation can't be avoided since it is an inevitable consequence of permanent exposure to the British weather which is why projects like this are so important. They map and record key elements of Colchester's past such as the Balkerne Gate for future generations.”

Chris Matthews, lecturer, BA Photography, said: “Colchester’s Roman Wall project afforded our students the opportunity to actively contribute toward a highly innovative and ground-breaking form of 3D photographic mapping.

“Professor Powlesland, the Colchester Borough Council staff and the Colchester Archaeological Trust also supplied the students with a series of talks and guided tours of the wall, which were then used to inform a series of photographic projects initiated by the students themselves about the wall and its relationship to the town. The history and physical structure of the wall then became a stepping-stone for further creative enquiry.”
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