Dr. Adrian Ryan

Adrian has been a lecturer in Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and curator of its Museum of Classical Archaeology since 2001. He holds a masters degree in Classical Civilisations and a PhD in Classical Archaeology. His research interest is in Athenian painted pottery, and particularly, in the use of computers to study these artifacts.

Athenian painted pots often show scenes from everyday life and mythology and are thus extremely valuable to our understanding of the period of their manufacture. In his doctoral thesis Dr Ryan argues that computers can be trained to replace art historians at distinguishing between the various painters of ancient Athenian ceramic pots. Being able to determine who painted a pot is extremely important for establishing a date for the production of the vessel, at least to within the lifetime of a painter.

Traditionally this kind of analysis has been conducted by highly skilled art historians who are, sadly, a dying breed. But their methods are considerably more precise than existing scientific procedures like carbon dating or thermoluminescence. For this reason, computers that can recognize individual artists are a crucial first step towards a precise and unbiased scientific method for dating these artefacts - one that may outlive the art historians whose ranks are rapidly diminishing.


Title of Ted Talk: An online Museum of Vase-paintings.

Current progress in the field of computer analysis of vase paintings is severely hindered by the lack of good quality images of vases, with most scholars having to make do with black-and white photographs of varying quality. VaseViewer is a software package, currently under development at the Museum of Classical Archaeology, that allows interactive pseudo-3D models of vases to be constructed with little effort and at small cost. This presentation shows the progress to date by demonstrating the latest version of the software, which is due for beta-release in August. If adopted by museums on a wide-scale, VaseViewer will not only make valuable research data available to anyone researching vase-paintings, but curators may also use it to publish - and publicize - their collections at considerably less cost than the expensive coffee table books that are currently the norm.

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