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Mari: Visualisation of an excavation trench

We have been working on this project for a while now and finished it just recently.  Prof. Butterlin from the University of Paris commissioned us to recreate an excavation trench of Mari in 3D.  The site Tell Hariri, situated in modern Syria, is unreachable at the moment and the excavation team needed a tool to work with the stratigraphy of the most important trench V.1.

We worked closely with Wael Abu-Azizeh, the leading excavator of that trench, to rebuild the stratigraphy and architectural remains in the computer. The results were final renderings and… a Google SketchUp model! You can read everything about the project here.

A long lost update

It has been a while since our last post, but a lot has happened and time flew by. We did do a lot of work at the end of last year and actually moved our office to a new co-working space with friendly colleagues! You can find us now under a new address and reach us under a new telephone number:

ARTEFACTS Berlin
Motzstr. 63
10777 Berlin
phone: +49 (0)30 / 556 420 53

As for work, we are still reconstructing of course. At the moment, we are working on a reconstruction of a residential building in Ḥabūba Kabīra-South. We hope, we can present some results soon, as this is rather a small building in comparison to the Uruk material.

I already reported on my presentation at the CHNT18 about the Uruk visualisations. I am currently writing the corresponding article for it and will make the result available here, as soon as it is edited and public. In this sense, we wish everyone a (late) good start into 2014!

Explaining the IT structure of the German Archaeological Institute

For the second issue of the magazine “Archäologie Weltweit”, that is published by the German Archaeological Insitute (DAI), we were commissioned to develop an informative graphic that shows the complex network of different projects of the DAI. The goal was to express the different layers of information that are managed by the DAI and in which way it might be possible to grant access to that data. I am sure most of you have heard of IANUS, ZENON or ARACHNE, but did you know how they were related? We didn’t either, but tried to show exactly this network in the graphic.

What is reconstruction all about? – Part 2/3

One of our specialities and passions is the reconstruction and visualisation of ancient architecture. Virtual 3D-models make it possible to communicate a lot of information at a single glance. In this multi-part article I want to discuss the roots (Part 1), benefits (Part 2) and problems (Part 3) of archaeological reconstructions.

Part 2: The benefits

How can we benefit from reconstructions? In which ways can they help to understand or add to archaeological research? I want to look at this from two different angles: benefits for the scientific community (helping archaeological research) and benefits for a broader public (visualisations in museums, magazines or the internet). Both are equally important, nevertheless have different rules and concerns.

Scientific reconstructions

First of all, a reconstruction is never 100% correct. While reconstructing, one can only try to come as close as possible to what reality was (or might have been for that matter). Therefore, a combination of archaeological evidence, philological traces and constructional thoughts has to be used to accomplish a result that represents the most reliable model.¹ Opinions differ and there is always more than one possibility. Simple 3D-models can compare different methods and theories and can therefore be used for further discussions.

Also, during the virtual building process new questions arise. While constructing roofs or stairways one has to think the whole process through. Often it becomes clear, that before-thought solutions do not work and one has to come up with a different one. Only during this process one can fully understand the building. It sounds redundant, but reconstructing actually helps the reconstruction.

A third reason: Virtual reconstructions can combine and show – at a glance – several different research results. Normally you have to get through a whole lot of archaeological reports to begin to understand the complete structure. With an image, you can put all that together and combine architectural, pictorial, textual and cultural results.²

Reconstructions for a broader public

Here, the benefit of presenting complicated archaeological research to a wider audience seems obvious. In exhibitions, it is always clearer to use reconstructions rather than architectural plans, which only archaeologists and architects can truly understand. With the help of a reconstruction, the visitor can get a feeling how the ancient world might have looked like. Of course, the uncertainty needs to be communicated, but we will come to this in the next part.

Also, it is possible to show how archaeologists work. One could visualize the difference between archaeological remains and reconstruction, to show an audience what actually survives. These informations are not only interesting for archaeologists, they are also sought by the interested audience. With intelligent visualisation, it is easy to present and understand.

In the last post of this multi-part article, I already mentioned that the way we will present archaeological reconstructions will change in the future. Due to new technology, wandering around ancient Babylon, Rome or Machu Picchu will become possible. But how should we perceive these visualisations? Is it not dangerous to present a past, that most certainly was – at least a bit – different? In the next part of this article, I will talk about the problems of reconstructions and things we need to consider when presenting them.

[1] Schmid, J. 2009: Moderne Zeiten. Die Rekonstruktion des Palastes, in: Schätze des Alten Syrien. Die Entdeckung des Königreichs Qatna (Exhibition catalogue), Stuttgart, 193-197.
[2] Micale, M.G. 2008: The course of the images. Remarks on the architectural Reconstructions in the 19th and 20th centuries: The case of the Ziqqurrat, in: Córdoba, J.M. et al. (Hrsg.), Proceedings of the 5th ICAANE (Madrid, April 3-8 2006), Madrid, 572.

Summary of the CHNT 18

From the 11th to the 13th of November, the conference about “Cultural Heritage and New Technologies” were held for the 18th time in Vienna. I took part with a contribution about the Uruk visualisations and more importantly, how we should perceive and communicate virtual reconstructions.

I learned really a lot the last few days. I was actually not aware what Photogrammetry is capable of and how detailed and effortless one can document and visualise an archaeological trench or distinct features. A very impressive presentation was given by Andrea Braghiroli, who used actually very simple methods to document a small temple-shrine in 3D. The results were very impressive and as far as I understood, it was all done with freeware.

Another interesting talk was given by Isto Huvila, who talked about the usability of information and did this by the simple example of a ball-point pen. He demonstrated, that even with something we already know, it is very difficult to attribute function to it. Why should we do this more correctly with archaeological data, which we definitely know less?

Mohammad Nabil from Egypt presented a very good way of utilising 360° panoramic views for heritage documentation. When you record in 3D it obviously is always a problem, that the sun creates uneven illuminated faces. If you record over a period of time, the sun moves and the photographs become very inhomogeneous. By simply recording at different times and overlay the pictures on top of another, he overcame that problem very easily.

These are just a few examples of the talks I have heard, but the general tendency of the conference was different kinds of data acquisition. As impressive as that was, in my opinion it lacked the theoretical background. As I am no specialist in data acquisition, one could argue, that the theoretical background is already in everybody’s mind. Still, I missed at least some remarks about the meaning of that technology for archaeology and a theoretical background for using it.

Nevertheless, I had a very interesting and informative time. I realized that, although it was not a very big conference (maybe 60 people?), all the specialists for that topic from around the world were summoned here. It was a bit nerdy some times, but in a very good way.

Five years of Artefacts!

After 5000 years of megacity, we celebrate today 5 years of :ARTEFACTS. Exactly five years ago, we decided to realize our shared idea and what started out as a student side job is now a fully grown small-business. We are looking forward to the next five years!

For this occasion we decided to give a little something away: A brand-new edition of the Cartoon History of the Universe. Volumes 1-7. From the BIG BANG to Alexander the Great by Larry Gornick (English). This is a formidable and amusing comic about… well the History of the Universe of course! If you do not already have it, you need it. If you want to win this edition, send an eMail to 5years@artefacts-berlin.de until the 17h of November 2013 with your name and shipping address. On the 18th we will let fortune decide who gets the book. We take care of the shipping fees, no matter where you live. After this, we will delete all mails and will not save any of your addresses. We have no interest in any data whatsoever and just want to give away one of these books. Best of luck!

Interview about 3D reconstruction in Archaeology

Last Thursday, Deutschlandradio Kultur was broadcasting a 5-minute report about 3D visualisations in Archaeology and our contribution to the Uruk exhibition. Nicola Crüsemann, the curator of the Uruk exhibition, was also interviewed. If you want to listen, Deutschlandradio Kultur has kindly allowed us to upload the MP3 of that Interview to our website. If you speak German, click the link below:

Elektronische Welten 24th of October 2013
Source: Susanne Billig for Deutschlandradio Kultur

Preparations for the Uruk exhibition in Herne

Yesterday, I was at the LWL-Museum in Herne to install and check our animations for the exhibition. The preparations are already pretty advanced and the exhibition looks really good! Herne has a lot more space than Berlin had; the exhibition is actually taking up a whole hall. I had a very nice day in the museum yesterday and was also able to go through the permanent exhibition, which is one of the best I’ve seen.

The Uruk exhibition will re-open on the 3rd of November and stay until the 21st of April 2014. That means you have plenty of time to visit “Uruk – 5.000 years of the megacity”, as well as the permanent exhibition. If you want more updates on the museum, you can also check out their Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Photo: © Sebastian Hageneuer with the permission of the LWL-Museum in Herne

Traditional vs. New Museum

Here is a confession: If I go through an exhibition, I rather watch the exhibits than read their descriptions. To be precise: Most of the time, I don’t read any of the descriptions. This has something to do with the way I like to remember things, but mostly with the fact, that there is actually not so much interesting to read about. If – in a special case – I want to know more about something, I usually lean over, squint my eyes and get a short description of what I am seeing. Normally, I learn how old something is, where it’s from and also – most of the time – what it’s purpose was. Usually, I know as much as before. But what if I want to know some more details?

Of course, there is the exhibition catalogue, where you can read extensively on every topic of the exhibition. Economically it makes sense, the museum can earn some extra money by selling it. But to be realistic, no one (including me) wants to carry a heavy catalogue through the exhibition and search through it, while interested in special exhibits. S. Hartmann wrote in his blog recently about the advantages of the e-book format for exhibition catalogues (German) and I agree.

In the comments, he also mentioned the idea, that one way of distributing the e-book version is to bundle it with the print version. Actually I think this is fantastic. For me, buying a digital version is absolutely great for the museum visit itself. I think walking through the exhibition with my tablet or smartphone would definitely enrich my experience. I can get all the information I want, without forcing other visitors to deal with a huge amount of text or forcing me to carry an exhibition catalogue around. Also, technologies like Augmented Reality, Video Implementation or Links to the Web can easily be integrated into that system. On the other hand, when I come back home, I really want the printed version for my book shelve. Maybe I am already too nostalgic, but I am sure, I am not the only one.

Here is how I would do it: When I buy my ticket, I have the option to additionally buy the catalogue bundle. I’ll get the digital version instantly on my phone or tablet via QR-Code on the ticket. After the visit, I can use my ticket to grab a printed version from the museum shop and go home. Happy experience. The ones, that don’t want to use all these new technologies have the same experience in the museum as they had before. The traditional exhibition design can stay and after the visit, one can go into the museum shop to buy solely the printed version of the catalogue as before. Also, happy experience.

Photo: © Sebastian Hageneuer

Presentation: The visualisation of Uruk at CHNT

Between the 11th and 13th of November 2013 the Conference on Cultural Heritage and New Technologies (CHNT) is held for the 18th time. The conference takes place in Vienna (Austria) and this year it is dedicated to Urban Archaeology and Correct Documentation. They have this panel called “Visualizing Archaeological Spaces – 3D computer renderings of architectural spaces based on archaeological evidence, historic documentation and metadata” where I will present a talk about the visualisation of Uruk.

If you are in Vienna or even at this conference, come by and say hello.

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