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Cultural treasure goes high tech: The Golden Letter from Myanmar as a 3D scan Myanmar

04.12.2017 - Article

A precious artefact from Myanmar has, for the first time ever, been presented to the public as a 3D scan: the Golden Letter from King Alaungphaya of Burma to Britain's King George II. The project was supported by the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office.

Part of the Golden Letter
Part of the Golden Letter© dpa / picture alliance

A precious artefact from Myanmar was presented to the public at the Federal Foreign Office for the first time ever on 12 November 2013 in the form of an elaborate 3D scan: the Golden Letter sent by King Alaungphaya of Burma to George II, King of Britain and Elector of Hanover, in 1756. Today the original is kept at the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library in Hanover.

History of a diplomatic offensive

In Burma in 1756, King Alaungphaya ordered a letter to be written on a sheet of pure gold and decorated with 24 costly rubies. The letter was addressed to King George II of Great Britain, who reigned simultaneously over the Electorate of Hanover and the Kingdom of Great Britain at the time. It was transported inside the hollowed-out tusk of an elephant, which has also been preserved. The royal missive was an offer of friendship extended to the British. Nonetheless, when it reached London in 1758, after a journey of nearly two years, it went unanswered.

George II instead had the letter transferred to the royal library in Hanover, where it remained for 250 years before its secrets were deciphered. The letter is prized among experts in Burmese culture as a unique artefact of global and colonial history. It has pride of place in the collection of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library (the Lower Saxony State Library) in Hanover.

Celebrating this cultural heritage today

The 3D scan of the Golden Letter
The 3D scan of the Golden Letter© AA

The historic document was digitised in 3D with the support of the Federal Foreign Office and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library. The innovative technology involved makes it possible to produce 3D projections of the digital model – on a screen, in the middle of a room, behind glass – as well as facsimiles and print-outs. A representative reproduction of the Golden Letter is being created as an exhibit for the national museum currently under construction in Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar).

Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Cornelia Pieper issued the following statement on the Golden Letter cultural preservation project:

Cultural and media relations with Myanmar have developed unprecedented momentum since a bilateral cultural agreement was signed in July. A second media training course, for example, is currently under way, and the Golden Letter cultural preservation project lends the agreement yet more substance. The next step is the opening of the Goethe-Institut in Rangoon, just in time for the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations next year.

The Golden Letter bears witness to a diplomatic offer, though it was unsuccessful at the time. Today this artefact is building bridges between Myanmar and Germany.

Journalists from Myanmar at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin
Journalists from Myanmar at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin© AA

Ten young journalists from Myanmar, who are attending a media training course in Berlin with support from the Federal Foreign Office, are reporting on this extraordinary cultural preservation project.

Through its Cultural Preservation Programme, the Federal Foreign Office helps protect cultural heritage around the world and foster cultural dialogue among partners.

Click here for more information on this project.

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