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/Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliche Informationsverarbeitung. 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 how 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 Inverted Classroom. What this basically means is, that in preparation for each course, you will read and work through the corresponding chapters of this Wiki. 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.

The Palace of Nimrud, Restored 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

  • Hageneuer, S. 2015: Archaeological Reconstructions (Online article on Smarthstoryblog.org).
  • Hageneuer, S. 2016: The influence of early architectural reconstruction drawings in Near Eastern Archaeology, in: Proceedings of the 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE), Wiesbaden, 359-370.
  • Hageneuer, S. 2019: »Without Drawing the Study of Antiquities is Lame!« – Architektur-Rekonstruktion als wissenschaftliches Tool?, in: Der Modelle Tugend 2.0 - Digitale 3D-Rekonstruktion als virtueller Raum der architekturhistorischen Forschung, herausgegeben von Piotr Kuroczyński, Mieke Pfarr-Harfst, und Sander Münster, 2:203–12. Computing in Art and Architecture. Heidelberg: arthistoricum.net.
  • James, S. 1997: Drawing Inferences. Visual Reconstruction in Theory and Practice. In: B.L. Molyneaux (Ed.) Cultural Life of Images. Visual Representation in Archaeology, 22–48. Oxfordshire, 1997.
  • Quick, S. 2020: Using Digital Media to Mediate Archaeology in the LVR-Archaeological Park Xanten / LVR-RömerMuseum, in: Communicating the Past in the Digital Age: Proceedings of the International Conference on Digital Methods in Teaching and Learning in Archaeology (12th-13th October 2018), herausgegeben von Sebastian Hageneuer, 73–84. London: Ubiquity.
“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 an free and open source software, Blender is a perfect option 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. As a free alternative, you could also use Google SketchUp, which is a good start into 3D modelling, as it is easy to use and simply to learn. The results however are - as the name of the software already suggests - more or less a sketch and it lacks a lot of functionality, we as archaeologists can use.

Logo of Cinema 4DCommercial 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, 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 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, that the new BMW is made out of a 3D software.

Visualisation of the remains of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in GreeceThe 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 good 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autcon.2003.09.010.
  • 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.

Here, we will dive into the basic features of Cinema 4D. This should teach you how to create some objects, move around in the 3D space as well as manipulating some basic features inside the program. The easiest way to learn this is by showing.

The User Interface

When you start Cinema 4D for the first time, you'll see an interface like in the image on the left. Besides some tools we will learn in later lessons, you'll find four main windows. The biggest one is the so called Viewport which displays your current view of your scene. By default you'll have a perspective view, but we can change that later. Below that, you'll find the Materials-Manager, where you can see your materials. On the right you'll find the Object-Manager on top. Here, you will see a list of all the objects created and you are able to organise them, tag them or arrange them. Finally, below the Object-Manager, you'll find the Attribute-Manager, where you are able to set all the parameters of different tools or objects. The Attribute-Manager changes respectively to what you have selected.

The Viewports

If you want to change the Perspective View of the Viewport you can do that by pressing the F-keys 1-5. Pressing F1 will show the Perspective View (Default), F2 will bring up the Top View, F3 the Side View and F4 the Front View. By pressing F5 you can see all four views at once. Basically you are very free to configure your views as you want, but for now, it is important to understand how to change the views with the first five F-Keys on your Keyboard. In order to go through the next step, we change back to the Perspective View. Here, you'll find a handy but equally beautiful list of the five shortcuts.

F1 F2 F3 F4 F5
Perspective Top/Bottom Right/Left Front/Back Overview of all Viewports

At the moment, our scene is empty, as we cannot see any objects inside of it. We have several possibilities to create objects, but the easiest way is to click on the blue cubic icon at the top tools row (see red border on the screenshot), which should create a cube in the center of the scene. We now will learn, how to navigate the scene, in order to move our view dynamically. In order to move, you'll need the keys 1, 2 and 3. 1 is for panning, 2 is for zooming and 3 is for rotating. Simply press and hold one of these keys, click the left mouse button somewhere in the scene and move the mouse. You will immediately see how this works.

1 2 3
Pan/Move Zoom Rotate

If you don't want to move the view, but the object, you'll need other tools. These are basically Move, Rotate and Scale. You can select the tools from the toolbar on top or use the corresponding shortcuts E, R and T. When you have selected the desired tool, you can move, rotate or scale the object freely by clicking somewhere in the viewport, keep the mouse button pressed and move your mouse or you can be more precise by using the Gizmo or Axis. If you want for example to move an object along the X axis, you simply select the Move tool (E) and click on the red arrow of the Gizmo. Now you only move in X direction. Remember: X is red, Y is green and Z is blue.

Move Rotate Scale

Coordinate System

This brings me to my last point of this introduction. You have already seen, that there are three axes: X, Y and Z. Each axis is represented by a corresponding color: Red, Green and Blue. You have the same coloring when you rotate, but here red means to rotate around the X axis, green means around the Y axis and blue around the Z axis. You can work with the Gizmo to selectively move, scale or rotate your objects.

Another important point is, that there is a world center with the absolute coordinates of 0, 0, 0. This is the center of your virtual world or scene. When you open up a new scene, this absolute zero is in the center of your screen. If you create new objects, they will be put exactly there. Additionally to that, objects each have also a object center, meaning that the center of an object is not the same as the center of a scene (absolute zero point). Obviously, when you move an object, the zero point of that object is no longer at the zero point of the scene. This opens up a whole world of absolute and relative coordinates. For now, it will suffice, if you understand that there are different zero points (for the scene/world, for each object, for parent objects) and that they do not have to be the same necessarily.

Primitive Objects

Screenshot of a cubeThe most simple way of creating an object is with the Primitive Objects button at the top. You have already created a cube in chapter 1, but if you press and hold the cube button, it opens up a whole sub-menu with more objects to choose from. We'll stick with the cube though, as this is the most easiest object in this list.
You already know how to move, rotate and scale the object. In addition, you can use the little golden handles to alter its dimensions. Just try to grab and move them. Please note, that you can't select individual points of that 3D object, like its corners. As this is still a Primitive Object there are no real points, edges or polygons. Primitive Objects are calculated shapes. So in this case, we have the shape of a cube with certain dimensions and a position. Later on, we will see how we can transform a Primitive Object into a Polygon Object. Go ahead and create a bunch of other objects and have a look how they work and what you can do with them. In the Attributes-Manager on the lower right side, you will find a bunch of options to play with, depending on the object you have created.


Screenshot of a Helix SplineRight beside the cube button, you can see a Pen Tool, which when selected and pressed opens up a whole sub-menu of objects, that we call Splines. If you create for example a Helix Spline you'll see a spring-like line in your scene. Note, that Splines are not real 3D objects, as they are simple lines. Also, these Splines are also primitive objects, where we can alter certain options and values, but not select individual points. Splines are used for constructing 3D objects with the method of Spline Modelling. To do so, Splines always have to be combined with a Generator. In the following exercise, we will use this technique. First, we will create some Splines and then we will connect them through a so-called Generator to create a full 3D object. The advantage of Spline Modelling in contrast to Box Modelling is the flexibility in modelling in 3D. Once setup, a system of Splines and Generators can be manipulated very easily without worrying so much about individual points, edges or polygons.

  • 3dreconstruction/chapter01.txt
  • Last modified: 2022/04/12 13:15
  • by shageneuer