University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Three dimensional modular construction system for interpretation and visualization of archaeological urban environments
Paul Johnson, Michael Klein, Nicola Schiavottiello

Last modified: 2011-12-17


The interpretation of archaeological datasets from complex urban environments and their subsequent transformation into three-dimensional representations of the interpretation usually requires a time consuming process of re-evaluation and discussion, data from excavation records often presents only a limited window into a site and we will therefore focus this paper on the more extensive datasets derived from geophysical survey.

Here we propose an alternative solution which lessens the disconnection between the producer of the archaeological interpretation of the features enabling the archaeologist to perform an interpretative work-flow which places ideas within a malleable three-dimensional environment therefore resulting in a more direct involvement throughout the re-constructive, or representative process.

The software platform that we chose for this purpose is the freely available Unity 3d © game-engine with a customized interface. This provides the archaeologist with a highly intuitive, specialized and easy to use 3D environment. Within this environment a series of datasets can be incorporated including a terrain model, generated maps from aerial photographs, geophysical survey plans  and their digitised interpretations. These layers provide the basis for a simple-geometry representation of the interpretation in three-dimensions. The result is a 3D block-representation of the full extent of the studied area (in this case the town) through a rapid process which permits collaborative discussion and an iterative process of refining the interpretation which can easily account for input from a number of operators. This block-model can easily be modified to provide the basis for a more fully detailed 3D model incorporating various building elements which have been fully documented through excavation where available and can be used for other presentations like film, real time and augmented reality productions.   

This process will be illustrated through a case study from the Roman town of Ammaia (Alto Alentejo, Portugal) where these processes have been applied to a Roman urban site surveyed with various geophysical techniques. This work was achieved within the project “Radio Past” “Radiography of the past,.integrated non-destructive approaches to understand and valorise complex archaeological sites”funded by the European Union under the Marie Curie  Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) program


3d modelling; geophysics; interpretation; game engine; landscape