A team from the University of Exeter, UK, developed ways to visualise small ancient artefacts by combining techniques used in archeological research and computer graphics used in gaming, according to a study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The aim is to produce high-quality images and models of small archeological items with minimal effort to be used by teachers and educators. Being able to accurately represent items like stone, ceramic, metal, or bone has always been of great importance to the field of anthropology and archaeology. The ability to see these items — not just read a description about them — offers excellent value in producing cultural materials for the public to see and analyse.
Digital photography is often used, but it often fails to faithfully represent the artefact being studied. More recently, 3D scanning is seen as a viable alternative to produce high-quality images, but the cost of the equipment to build a model is often prohibitive for small organisations.
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter has now developed two new methods to produce high-resolution visualisations of small objects, both of them using basic software and equipment.
The first method — called Small Object and Artefact Photography or SOAP — used modern digital techniques. The protocol includes all necessary information, from the initial setup of the equipment to post-processing software. The second method — called High-Resolution Photogrammetry or HRP — can be used to photograph and build 3D models of small objects. This method includes a comprehensive guide to developing 3D models, combining techniques used in computer graphics, which allow anyone to produce high resolution and quantifiable models
“These new protocols combine detailed, concise, and user-friendly workflows covering photographic acquisition and processing, thereby contributing to the replicability and reproducibility of high-quality visualizations,” said Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni, lead author of the paper from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. “By clearly explaining every step of the process, including theoretical and practical considerations, these methods will allow users to produce high-quality, publishable two- and three-dimensional visualisations of their archaeological artefacts independently.”
Both methods use Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe Photoshop, RawDigger, DxO Photolab, and RealityCapture, taking advantage of many functions that make image capture easier and faster. However, SOAP and HRP can also be applied to other similar software with identical features, allowing anybody to use free or open-access software, with only minor changes to some of the presented steps.
Both protocols are available on protocols.io.
“Because visual communication is so important to understanding past behavior, technology, and culture, the ability to faithfully represent artefacts is vital for the field of archaeology,” says co-author Felipe do Nascimento Rodrigues from the University of Exeter.
The authors hope to play an essential role with these new methods. Despite all the latest techniques in the field of archeology, there is often very little in the way of instructions to take photos and build 3D models that anybody can use. This work goes a long way to fill this gap, giving researchers, educators, and teachers the opportunity to create high-quality visualisations of archeological findings.