O'Donnell, Graham bring 3D imaging to ancient cross

A unique 7th century cross with some of the earliest examples of the English language engraved on it will soon be more visible than ever, thanks to University of Lethbridge researchers and an international team of 3D imaging experts.

O'Donnell cross
James Graham, left, and Dr. Dan O'Donnell work on scaffolding to document the intricacies of a 7th century cross.

Dr. Dan O'Donnell (English), James Graham (new media) and graduate student Heather Hobma, accompanied by a team of Italian technicians with 3D imaging equipment, recently visited the small village of Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, located just north of the England/Scotland border, to photograph and digitally render the 18-foot-tall Ruthwell Cross to make it more accessible to researchers worldwide. When the process is completed the artifact will be visible in three dimensions and with enhanced details.

The cross is an important Anglo-Saxon artifact, and contains numerous symbols, biblical scenes, quotations and images on all sides of its surfaces. Germanic runes and some of the earliest known examples of the English language are also inscribed.

Some sculptural elements were added to the cross in the 10th century, while the timeline for other engravings is unknown. Over the centuries, the cross has been destroyed and rebuilt, and now rests in a specially constructed space in the Ruthwell church.

To get their equipment in place, the group had to erect scaffolding, use a lot of bubble wrap, and have the co-operation of numerous groups and heritage preservation organizations to gain access to the church and the cross. While there, the team presented its research to the community, and was the subject of numerous media queries.

Catherine Karkov, the head of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds (UK) worked with the group on the project. Karkov is a widely published and respected researcher who specializes in early medieval and Anglo-Saxon art.

This story first appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the entire issue in flipbook format, follow this link.