Chapter 1: Introduction

The course “3D modelling and reconstruction in Archaeology” is a theoretical and practical course at the master-level of your academic studies in Archaeoinformatics, Digital and Computational Archaeology, Archaeology or Digital Humanities. It will basically teach you three things:

  • The theoretical approach to scientific archaeological reconstruction
  • The practical tools to understand and use a 3D software (in our case Maxon Cinema 4D)
  • The organisational skills to create and implement a group project of your own choice and to present it (for example in Virtual Reality)

As we will approach the first two points simultaneously in the first half of the semester, the third point will be part of the later second half. To conquer this immense curriculum, we will exercise this course under the concept of the Flipped Classroom. What this basically means is, that in preparation for each course, you will read and work through the corresponding chapters of this website. Prepared like this, we will spend a short amount of time for questions about the actual task and then continue with more advanced techniques, in order to reach a certain level at the middle of the term. We need to reach that level in order for you to independently work on your group projects. The time you have to spend on preparing a class is part of your self-study (Selbststudium).

In addition to the practical work and application, we will discuss the theoretical approach to archaeological reconstruction with the help of some further reading of selected articles. This part will be done throughout the the term at the beginning of each class.

What is an archaeological reconstruction?

An archaeological reconstruction is the attempt to visualise in one way or another materials from the past. In our case, we will primarily talk about architecture, but you could also reconstruct landscapes, objects, rituals and so on. The main problem with reconstruction is however the uncertainty. We always have to utilise a certain amount of guesswork when reconstructing. This by itself is not the problem, but it becomes a problem, as the viewer or consumer of that particular reconstruction is not aware of this uncertainty or subjectivity. We therefore need a sound methodology when reconstructing, take care of proper and detailed documentation and in the end have to make sure, that our results will be communicated correctly to whatever audience.

During the course, we will talk about all three points in more detail, but for now it is necessary to understand, that ultimately you will fail in creating a perfect reconstruction. We all will, as it is not possible to do everything correctly. If this was the case, we wouldn't talk about reconstructions, rather then copies. So for the first lesson, you should understand, that there is no perfect reconstruction. Ever. There is a quotation by Simon James, that fits perfectly:

“Even if you follow the rules [of reconstruction], the only certain thing about any reconstruction drawing is… that it is wrong. The only real question is, how wrong is it?” - James, S. 1997: 25.

So, during the next weeks we will talk about the theoretical issues like using different sources, methodologies and the intention of our reconstructions. Practically, we will learn how to implement the theoretical approaches by a group project and in which ways a meaningful communication of these results should take place.

Further Reading

What is 3D software and which one will we use?

“3D software produces computer-generated imagery (CGI) through 3D modeling and 3D rendering or produces 3D models for analytic, scientific and industrial purposes.” - Wikipedia contributors, "3D computer graphics software" (accessed April 12, 2017).

There are several options for choosing a software and except some, all of them are capable to produce very good results and are used by the industry as well. As a free and open source option, Blender is a perfect choice as it is capable to produce stunning results. It's features contain modelling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing and motion tracking, even video editing and game creation, so basically the full package.

Commercial software however has a lot more functionality. Here, we have also a plethora of options, but to name the biggest two, we could use Autodesk 3ds Max, which is a very professional software that is used a lot. In our course however, we will use Maxon Cinema 4D, which is also a software with the same professionalism. It was initially created for graphic designers (instead of engineers) and is therefore easier to understand than other software (IMHO).

As other software too, Cinema 4D also has a student program, where you can use the current version of Cinema 4D free as a student. You only have to register with their website, pay a small service fee, download the software and wait for an email with an authorisation code. Once you have entered it, you are able to use the high-end version of Cinema 4D for (nearly) free!

When I am talking about the industry, the applications of 3D software are manifold. Architects use it to visualise current projects, the film industry uses 3D software to create whole movies, the advertisement industry to visualise products. The possibilities are endless and the results can simulate hyper-realism in a form, that you probably don't recognize.

The applications for Archaeology are manifold too. Informative graphics, simulations, landscape visualisations or 3D reconstructions as we will do are only a few examples. The results can differ in quality and complexity, but always need to be scientifically based. The main differences to industrial visualisations are two:

Money: We have not the same financial support as the industry has
Accuracy: We can't (or shouldn't) cheat in creating visualisations

This is the reason we need to take good care of the methodology of reconstruction in order to create scientifically sound reconstructions with comprehensible documentation and goal-oriented communication. The first step however is the acquisition of necessary visualisation tools with good 3D software. Only if you are capable to produce in 3D what you want, you have the possibilities to create reconstructions focused on scientific values rather than visual ones.

Further Reading

  • Campana, Stefano. “3D Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage - Theory and Best Practice.” In 3D Recording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. Theory and Best Practices, edited by Fabio Remondino and Stefano Campana, 7–12. BAR International Series 2598. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2014.
  • Cargill, Robert R. “An Argument for Archaeological Reconstruction in Virtual Reality.” Near Eastern Archaeology 72, no. 1 (2009): 28–41.
  • Kensek, Karen M., Lynn Swartz Dodd, and Nicholas Cipolla. “Fantastic Reconstructions or Reconstructions of the Fantastic? Tracking and Presenting Ambiguity, Alternatives, and Documentation in Virtual Worlds.” Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture 13, no. 2 (March 2004): 175–86.
  • Lanjouw, Tijm. “Discussing the Obvious or Defending the Contested: Why Are We Still Discussing the ‘scientific Value’ of 3D Applications in Archaeology?” In The Three Dimensions of Archaeology. Proceedings of the XVII UISPP World Congress (1–7 September 2014, Burgos, Spain), edited by Hans Kamermans, Wieke de Neef, Chiara Piccoli, Axel G. Posluschny, and Roberto Scopigno, 1–11. Volume 7/Sessions A4b and A12. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2016.

This page was last edited on 2024-04-10 11:25

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This page was last edited on 2024-04-10 11:25

Sebastian Hageneuer
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