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. (Brietbart.com 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.
Digital Archaeology in the News: