University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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History in 3D: New Virtualization Techniques for Innovative Architectural and Archeological Scholarship and Education
Krupali Krusche, Paul Turner, Christopher Sweet

Last modified: 2011-12-17


New technologies have made it possible to convert the archeological and architectural records of the past into digital formats and then record that information in databases, Computer Aided Design (CAD) maps and digital images. Data created using state-of-the-art 3D laser scanners and high-resolution panoramic digital images offer scholars the unprecedented opportunity to recreate accurate, searchable digital “copies” of the sites they are researching. Digital records of historic sites and structures with an accuracy of up to ±4 mm gives researchers, educators, students and general public an opportunity to virtually explore all the details of a site.


Researchers working at archaeological and architectural sites typically produce a diverse array of three-dimensional data to make more accurate claims about historical sites. Continued developments in 3D laser scanners and high-resolution digital cameras offer scholars unprecedented opportunities to recreate accurate, searchable digital “copies” of the sites they are researching. This paper presents results of our research to combine 3D scanner and camera capabilities to create unique data virtualizations, allowing users to frame new research questions and generate innovative ways of interactive explorations of historic properties and world heritage sites. Using data already collected at the Roman Forum, we propose to develop open source, web accessible software capable of fusing extremely high-resolution (gigapixel) panoramic images produced by the GigaPan system with dense point clouds generated by Leica 3D scanner to create accurate, interactive 3D images of archeological sites. Because the tool affords unique ways to manipulate and interpret 3D virtualizations of historic sites, its potential to contribute to field of humanistic scholarship and education is vast.


In addition to offering unique ways to study historic sites, the paper presents methods to spur new scholarship, enabling new methods of analysis, site manipulation and “reverse blueprinting” – a way of retroactively generating plans should the site ever be destroyed. Learning materials generated will allow better study of the conservation arts, what it means to think 3-dimensionally and connections across pencil, paint and pixel modeling. The tool can prove an invaluable resource for educators/scholars seeking to enrich their curricula or research agenda with the study of historic sites.


3D visualizations of historic and world heritage and cultural sites will not only expand and enhance our collective understanding of the historical record; it will bring to life the past for an increasingly visually oriented public. This precise type of 3D modeling allows humanities students and researchers to pose questions surrounding what it means to practice conservation and preservation of crucial sites in the age of digital virtualization.


3D Scanner, Gigapan, World Heritage Sites, High resolution photography