Category Archives: Artifacts

The Future of Archaeology: Why 3D Rendering is Virtually Vital

Since starting to research photogrammetry in preparation for Saturday’s International Archaeology Day workshop, I’ve realized a couple of crucial points. One is that 3D rendering of objects and landscapes is fast becoming a standard practice in archaeology and the second is that the process is one of the few archaeological processes that can be picked up at home with no investment other than your time.


For our workshop we are using the free software 123DCatch, which has apps for computers, tablets and smartphones. The multi-platform app means that a student – if they have WiFi at the dig site – could potentially photograph and render in 3D on site and in mere minutes with their cell phone, producing detailed and accurate copies of artifacts or archaeological features that were once painstakingly drawn by hand.


If you’ve read Kat’s post on her dig over the summer in Italy, you already know there is plenty of slow, painstaking work in archaeology; there is no substitute for the precise, methodical uncovering of artifacts and features long buried under the dirt. (Fun party trick – just mention Heinrich Schliemann’s excavation tactics and watch your archaeologist friends cringe in horror and dismay.) That’s not to say that archaeological geophysics isn’t making strides in its own right, but those methods can only be used to identify buried features; no push of a button is going to actually shift the dirt carefully enough that we can replace eager students “cleaning dirt off of dirt”.


But where we can save time – in surveys, in rendering the artifacts and features more precisely and in greater detail – we have an obligation to do so. This is not just a question of getting your excavation finished in good time, or even getting the results published. I keep coming back to what Tom Elliott said when opening the EAGLE Conference – that we are all working together as the antidote to the destruction of our shared cultural heritage. This isn’t just an academic’s attempt to justify their work – there are genuine threats to our cultural heritage and the preservation of it is necessary and vital.

The Associated Press reports the Islamic State has taken to destroying key archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria– much of which includes the ancient land of Mesopotamia– and subsidizing their income with black market sales of ancient artifacts. In addition to Mosul, the Islamic State controls four ancient cities — Nineveh, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin and Ashur– which gives them nearly unbridled access to a treasure trove of statues, tiles, and other highly-coveted items by collectors. Nineveh alone contains 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites. ( Sept. 21, 2014)

We fully believe that any student heading out on a dig in the future should be armed with a basic knowledge of photogrammetry, given how easily accessible the software is and how simple it is to use. Our scholarly focus may be on the past, but we need to keep our eyes on the future at least in terms of the tools and techniques we use in the field.

Further reading:

 A Discussion of the Analytical Benefits of Image-Based 3D Modeling in Archaeology

Photogrammetry in Archaeology: Using the Future to Understand the Past in the Present

Digital Archaeology in the News:

3D Model of the Amphipolis Tomb

Beyond Ankor: How lasers revealed a lost city






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Filed under Archaeology, Artifacts, Digital Cultural Heritage, DIY

Can social media make a difference?

humbledon petition

Maybe you’ve heard the term “slacktivist” before. It’s used for someone who thinks adding a hashtag, liking a Facebook post or forwarding an email is the same as actually making a change in the world, and is most often used to criticize laziness or the kind of social justice warrior who doesn’t really want to get off the couch. And there are a number of cases where this kind of “clicktivism” just doesn’t succeed. But I’ve come across an interesting petition, started by two teenage girls in Sunderland, England trying to stop the development of Humbledon Hill, part of which was granted Ancient Monument status as recently as 2011. In their case, social media might be just what they need to get enough petitions to halt the development.

Details from state that:

The settlement on Humbledon Hill includes the western half of a defended settlement; to the east, the settlement has been compromised by housing development, gardening activities and the construction of a Victorian reservoir. This area is not included in the scheduling, given the level of disturbance to which it has been subjected. Geophysical survey in 2003 and archaeological evaluation in 2006 and 2007 demonstrated that the defended settlement includes a roughly sub-circular enclosure measuring a maximum of 75m north east to south west by 62m north west to south east, within two ditches and a medial bank. The inner ditch is c.0.5m wide and 0.5m deep and is considered to be the remains of a palisade trench, which formerly contained a wooden fence. The outer ditch is situated about 9m outside the inner ditch and measures up to 3m wide and 1m deep. Between the two ditches there is a stone and earth bank standing to a maximum height of 0.8m interpreted as the remains of a rampart. There is an entrance through the west side of the enclosure. Two substantial, ditched features immediately outside the settlement on the south and south west sides have the same character as the outer ditch and are considered the remains of structures associated with it. Prehistoric pottery, recovered from the ditches, demonstrated that the inner ditch was dug during the later Bronze Age and the outer ditch was subsequently dug during the Iron Age. Animal bone, some of it burnt, and flint pieces were recovered from parts of the ditches. Also recovered was what was identified as the corner of a triangular loom weight of Iron Age date. Within the interior of the enclosure, there are a series of pits, each 2m in diameter and archaeological evaluation also uncovered what was thought to be the part of a Bronze Age round cairn.

The petition needs to be handed in on Friday, and Emmie and Lily Thompson are reaching out through twitter to get as many signatures as possible by the deadline. Please check them out on Twitter: @Save_Our_Hill, and please sign the petition to Save Humbledon Hill. I’m really hoping social media can make a difference and save this one small space.

For more on the archaeological finds at Humbledon Hill, check out the Tyne & Wear museum for information on the Bronze Age urns found on the hill in 1873.

twmuseum urn


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We’ve Been Published! Bible History Daily’s Digital Humanities Issue

At the end of July, we were contacted by the Biblical Archaeology Review about doing a post for their blog, Bible History Daily, as they were planning to do features on digital humanities in August. Our article, Bringing 21st-century access to ancient artifacts, focuses on our artifact collection and the work we’ve done this past year to create an online gallery with

Medieval glazed pottery

Medieval glazed pottery

UBC CNERS Artifact Colleciton

UBC CNERS Artifact Colleciton

It’s an honour to be included with the other fascinating posts on digital humanities work being done in our field. I really enjoyed Map Quests: Geography, Digital Humanities and the Ancient World by Sarah Bond from the University of Iowa on the various mapping projects happening in classical, biblical and archaeological studies. These projects really do bring the ancient world to life again, and make it accessible to everyone without sacrificing scholastic integrity (ahem, “History” Channel).

And for those interested in the technological side of the work, BAR has a page devoted to archaeological technologies with articles on GIS, photogrammetry and even a free e-book on cyber-archaeology. It’s a fascinating fusion of past and future, well worth a read, as we try to keep up with the technology that makes our work possible.

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Filed under Archaeology, Artifacts, Digital Classics

DIY DH: Professional Results on a Budget

In January, we selected team member Patricia Taylor to take over digitization of the artifact collection. Since then, she has tagged and numbered the entire collection, started work on the database, set up proper storage of the artifacts, had the entire collection professionally photographed, and has even found time to test out some 3D modelling software. Here are a few highlights of her work, and details on how she’s managed to do so much on an extremely tight budget.

Trish made a lightbox using a tutorial we found online using a cardboard box, some white tissue paper and a sheet of white poster paper. The cost for this was only a few dollars, and provided us with a simple solution to our photography needs.

Simple DIY lightbox and natural light.

Simple DIY lightbox and natural light.

We have to thank our photographer Jessica Matteazzi who is currently studying Digital Graphic Design at Vancouver Community College. She photographed the entire collection with Trish in a single five hour session, and we are extremely pleased with the results of her work. We have a relatively small but diverse collection, as you can see from the photos below:

Medieval glazed pottery

Medieval glazed pottery

Egyptian amulets and beads

Egyptian amulets and beads

Ceramic lamps from the ancient Near East

Ceramic lamps from the ancient Near East

We are hoping to get the searchable database up and running early this summer and getting high-quality photographs of the collection was the first step to realizing that goal.

We are also looking at having virtual 3D models of the artifacts; this will enable a more comprehensive look at the artifacts for anyone who wishes to study the collection in more detail than photographs provide. Trish has done some test models of a souvenir lamp (not one from our collection) with 123D Catch, which is a free application that is user-friendly and easy to learn.

While we would love to purchase 3D modeling software in the future, 123D Catch is a great interim program that yields very good results and has given us a basic understanding of how to go about creating virtual 3D models.

UBC CNERS Artifact Colleciton

UBC CNERS Artifact Colleciton

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Filed under Artifacts, Digital Classics, DIY, photography

Cuneiform Tablet

Cuneiform tablet1

This cuneiform tablet is dated to the Ur III period, circa 2100 – 2000 BCE. The tablet is small, measuring about 3.5 cm in height, 3 cm in width and about 1 cm in thickness. It is inscribed on both sides with the cuneiform script, which has been used to render Sumerian.

Cuneiform tablet2

The tablet itself is a receipt for the delivery of livestock and possibly oil. It almost certainly comes from the site of Purzis-Dagan, located in southern Iraq. Check back soon for the transliteration and translation of the tablet.

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Filed under Artifacts, Cuneiform, Near Eastern

Quick up date on the progress so far:

We met with Dr. Phillip Harding at the end of June, and he spoke to us about the history of the collection and epigraphy in general – look for a post on that soon.

Squeeze sample 

We’ve begun going through the squeeze collection to determine how many of them are legible and intact enough to scan for the website. So far, the majority of the collection is in very good condition, considering their age.


UBC graduate students Chelsea Gardner and David Assaf, who are excavating in Greece this summer, had an opportunity to make a squeeze. They have a short video of the process which will be posted soon.

And finally, we have dates set at the end of August to photograph our artifact collection with LoA, and look forward to having the translation and transliteration of our cuneiform tablet available soon.

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Filed under Artifacts, Cuneiform, Epigraphy, Project Planning, Squeeze Collection

Artifact Collection

These are some of the Near Eastern artifacts that were donated to the department. We will be working with the Lab of Archaeology this summer to photograph the collection and will set up a website to be used for future study of the artifacts. At the moment, only the most preliminary identification has been done. The digital collection will be used as a teaching resource and our intention is that students will take the initiative to study the artifacts and add their own findings to the database

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by | June 6, 2013 · 3:04 pm