University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Making visible: 3D voxel representations of ‘sites without features’. The case study of Hoge Vaart, the Netherlands
Stefania Merlo, Hans Peeters

Last modified: 2011-12-17


The number of recent publications on the use of three-dimensional GIS based approaches to excavation data (Katsianis et al. 2008, Lieberwirth 2008, 2009, Losier et al. 2007)demonstrate that, at last, GIS developments are catching up with the needs of archaeologists who have long identified 3D as the fundamental requirement for intra-site analysis  (Harris and Lock 1996). These 3D models are mostly dedicated to the modeling of stratigraphic excavation and to the enhancement of context based visualization and query. Nevertheless, the stratigraphic method is not the only approach used in archaeological excavation. At ‘site without features’ or when dealing with fragile ecological conditions of material, the so called ‘arbitray method’ is preferred. Gridded spits are, in this case, the spatial unit of reference for the collection  of continuous data, represented, in GIS, with raster data structures.

This paper presents a voxel based approach to the representation of ‘arbitrary excavations’. The Hoge Vaart case study (an excavation aimed at elucidating the Mesolithic to Neolithic transition in the Netherlands)is used here as an example of how voxel as a carrier of information allows for the mapping and analysis of data collected as sample points and grid units. The focus shifts from semi-realistic representation (typical of stratigraphic approaches in 3D) to the study of distribution of properties.  Initial 2D spatial analysis of the site by the second author (Peeters 2007) has been enhanced by the first author (Merlo 2010), using a novel voxel approach based on the very same data. Here point data and spit units are used to explore not only horizontal but vertical proximity, coincidence, association as proxies for depositional and post-depositional processes, with a particular focus on the multifaceted composition of the matter (soil and buried material culture). Although the results and final interpretations of both studies compare rather well, the voxel approach permits to improve the insights into relationships between the various spatiotemporal entities.


3D GIS; excavation; voxel; representation