«3D Revolution» in Archaeology in Russian Perspective
The last decade has introduced methods of three-dimensional documentation and rendering of information uncovered by excavations, opening up entirely new opportunities in presenting scientific discoveries and bringing home their significance to the public. Now, photorealistic interactive 3D models make it possible for anyone to see archaeological sites. Stereoscopic videos displayed by specialized museum equipment create a total participation effect, enabling any visitor to watch excavations step by step, in all their detail and from all perspectives. Unfortunately, however, laser scanning and close-range photogrammetry have not yet gained due currency in Russian archaeology. The report will present the latest results of the application of 3D documentation and 3D visualization techniques in archaeological and museum projects of Tomsk State University.
1) Timiryazevo burial site: A 3D recording project.
A 3D-recording project was brought into practice by Tomsk State University during the investigation of Timiryazevo burial site (5th–10th centuries AD) in 2014. During the excavation, three-dimensional records of the whole archaeological site were made at each stage, as well as individual records of all artifacts. 3D recording was provided by the SFM technology. The data obtained was used for research and was also applied in the development of the exhibition project «Secrets of Timiryazevo Burial Site: The Circle of Life and Death in Siberian Shamanism». The exposition revolves around unveiling the meaning of the rite of burying lookalike dolls of the deceased, which was practiced by many indigenous peoples of Siberia. The exposition is designed to let the visitor go through the whole cycle of knowledge extraction together with archaeologists, “detectives of the past”: from a bunch of strange miniscule objects found in the sand to reconstruction of the whole sophisticated rite of “ultimate funeral” including the burial of the deceased’s lookalike doll. The tools used to develop the topic included a stereoscopic video created with Autodesk 3D Studio MAX 2014 and displayed in the exhibition.
2) 3D Recording of a 19-Century Ob River Ship.
A 3D recording of a 19-century wooden ship discovered on the bank of the river Ob (Western Siberia) was performed in autumn 2015. The archaeologized ship was partly under water, partly lying ashore, buried under fluvial deposits. The 3D recording was performed in October, when the water level was at its lowest after clearing the area around the ship. A 3D recording at the place of discovery was required as part of the ship museumification and reconstruction project. The works performed were primarily aimed at preserving as much information about the object as possible.
Given the location and peculiar features of the object, a combination of close-range photogrammetry and aerial photography was considered to be the best possible solution for creating a high-quality 3D model.
The dismantled ship was delivered to Nizhnevartovsk Museum of Local History in October 2015. The ship is going to be reassembled using the created 3D model to be exhibited in the museum. The resulting models are also going to be used to make a virtual 3D reconstruction of the ship in the future. We shot a stereoscopic video for Nizhnevartovsk Museum of Local History to let visitors see the place of discovery and explore the ship in greater details. Besides, 3D printing allowed for creating a miniature of the ship, which is also going to be included in the exposition devoted to this unique discovery.
3) 3D Reconstruction of Koch, Russian Rowing/Sailing Boat of the 17th Century.
Koch is a Russian rowing/sailing boat adapted for the heavy Arctic conditions. A virtual 3D reconstruction of a 17th-century koch commenced in 2014.
Precise engineering drawings were unknown to Russian boat makers of the 17th century, while the few pictures of koch and inconsistent written sources do not allow for an authentic reconstruction of all details and specific features of the vessel. The original boat parts discovered during archaeological studies in Mangazeya, the first transpolar Russian town in Siberia, served the unique resource for the reconstruction.
The area had no forests to provide wood for construction, so houses were built from dismantled boats. Structures built entirely from framings were surveyed in Mangazeya. Boat parts are perfectly preserved in the cultural layer of permafrost. For the purposes of reconstruction, we used the two best preserved koch framings dating back to the 17th century.
We needed to perform 3D scanning of 293 boat parts. Those parts represented individual pieces of various forms and sizes (from 0.3 m to 5.6 m). This diversity was the key factor when choosing the equipment and elaborating scanning methods. We used scanners GoScan 3D and GoScan 50 by Creaform with the optimal resolution of 1 mm. Textures were identified using photo camera Nikon D700 and the SfM (structure from motion) 3D model technique. Agisoft Photoscan Pro software was used to create low-poly models with applied textures. We used Geomagic Wrap software to perform the final processing of the scanned model and to copy the textures from low to high poly. 3D Studio max software was used to reproduce the original look of the parts by removing traces of secondary use and natural wood deformation. The same software was used for virtual assembly of the parts and 3D reconstruction of the whole boat.
The shift to a digital culture in archaeology represented by this and other recently developed recording systems represents a new paradigm in archaeological practice and offers many opportunities. Compared to the traditional manual registration methods, the improvements of the new methodology have not only an economic, time efficient and cost-effective importance but also a major scientific value. With an abandonment of both the tools and spatial divisions of traditional archaeological excavation, we may be describing the most radical change to archaeological practice since the introduction of structured excavation and recording over a century ago. From the late parts of the 19th century up to today, the development of spatial documentation has been phenomenal. But it is only in the last 10-20 years that we have been able to fully utilize the potential of digital recording methodology as a cost-efficient means of spatial documentation in archaeology. The most recent developments in field documentation methodology, such as digital photogrammetry and laser scanners, especially have shown great potential for archaeology in general. New ways of using and interpreting the data gathered have started to make their impression on archaeology, although this is merely the beginning of a «digital revolution» in archaeology. This clearly illustrates the importance and long-term benefits of using modern 3D recording techniques in field archaeology. However, Russian archaeologists are as yet mostly unaware of their availability, so they currently hardly ever use them.