Practice and Method in Creating 3D Models in Archaeology | Archaeology | Excavation (Archaeology)


Practice and Method in Creating 3D Models in Archaeology for Digital Archaeological Practice A Workshop on the use of Technology in the Field February 6 - 7, 2014 University of Massachusetts Amherst William R. Caraher University of North Dakota Introduction As anyone who has heard me talk over the last few years -- including many of the people in the room here -- knows I’m both an enthusiastic supporter of digital methods in archaeology, and deeply curious about how they are transforming archaeological practice. Today I want to consider how the use of 3D imaging from photographs (structure-from-motion imaging) transforms certain aspects of archaeological practice and, as a result, forms part of a larger trend in how the discipline, as a community of practice, is changing. Most of my observations here come from two perspectives. First, my background is in survey archaeology, and I have only come lately and reluctantly to excavation. [SLIDE] One of the major conversations in survey involves methodology, and, in particular, the ability of "inexperienced" field walkers to make "simple" identifications of material in the field. Part of the efficiency required (and touted!) by intensive survey projects comes from the ability to make use of relatively untrained personnel to produce archaeological data on a relatively large scale. Numerous studies have sought to demonstrate that inexperienced field walkers are no less able to recognize objects in the plow zone than their more experienced peers (and supervisors and directors). [SLIDE] Further streamlining survey procedures are the well-known, highly granular unit recording forms which replaced long-form notebooks with pages of check boxes, quantitative descriptions, and short notations drawing on models of documentation developed by professional archaeologists in CRM fields. Like in CRM, Mediterranean survey archaeology has made efficiency a priority, and many of the most critical attacks on the results of survey question the methods involved in survey to produce consistent and meaningful archaeological data. Second, I initiated a larger discussion that began on the pages of my blog and will soon migrate to paper and pdfs, on the 3D imaging in Mediterranean archaeology. [SLIDE] My interest in this area derived from both a general interest in digital recording practices in Mediterranean archaeology and Brandon Olson's insistence that we experiment with Agisoft PhotoScan on my projects on Cyprus. The results of our experimenting with PhotoScan were as stunning and accurate as Brandon predicted in his JFA article and in his contributions to our blog volume.



[SLIDE]Yet, despite careful attention to processes and procedures, there has been little reflection on the practice of collecting 3D data. Like methods associated with survey archaeology, scholars have recognized recent improvements in 3D imaging as a boon to field efficiency and way to produce archaeological illustrations that are more accurate, consistent, and efficient than traditional field recording practices. By simply following Brandon's step-by-step procedure even the most clueless project director (or undergraduate!) can produce highly accurate and detailed 3D images of stratigraphic relationships, architecture, or landscapes. This interest in efficiency and streamlining the archaeological data collection process, then, follows a pattern visible in both archaeological survey practice as well as in recent uses of iPads to replace traditional excavation notebooks. Practices While advocates of 3D methods are quick to point out that producing "structure-from-motion" images of a trench or a building is just one step in collecting and interpreting archaeological data, it is nevertheless true that this change in field practices will contribute to how archaeological knowledge is produced and consumed. The primary concern in my paper today is how the practices associated with producing "structure-from-motion" image, recently facilitated by remarkably easy software like Agisoft Photoscan, continue a trend toward simplifying and "de-skilling" in-field data collection. In this context, I should clarify what I mean by deskilling. I am not referring to specific archaeological skills in the field (nor that individual excavators have become less skillful), but rather to the marginalizing of forms of embodied knowledge in the larger enterprise of knowledge production. In archaeology, the process of deskilling has paralleled the rise in methodology. [SLIDE] The concern with field methods represents byproduct of the trend toward streamlining fieldwork that began with the introduction of systematic photography and continued through the growing use of automated survey equipment, GPS units, standardized data collection forms, and trench-side computers. These changes in practice have transformed both the character of archaeological documentation and publication as well as the way in which archaeologists establish disciplinary expertise in the field. Many people in the room today have heard me offer some version of what will sound like a Luddite Manifesto for archaeological technology. [SLIDE] My argument has generally gone as follows: the use of iPads or other digital tools to collect trench-side data will undermine a set of mysterious (or at least ill-defined) values intrinsic in "analogue" forms of data collection. I have hinted that somehow the transition to digital tools from the trusted pencil and paper notebooks would bring about the wholesale loss of valuable data associated with the practice of writing and



revising archaeological descriptions longhand. [SLIDE] I have wondered, for example, whether the ease with which a user can edit, revise, and delete data in some of the most recent implementations of trench-side data collecting might undermine traditional best-practices which require trench supervisors to strike through and initial revisions in their notebooks rather than deleting them completely. It will be interesting to understand how later revisions—say of an error in instrument height or in interpretation—will appear in digital notebooks. It is easy to imagine a system that preserves all changes to an entry, of course, but I’ve yet to see a system where a wiki-like interface exists. My Luddite perspectives could easily extend from a genuine concern about data integrity to the more elusive realm of changing archaeological experience. [SLIDE] Data collected through GPS units, remote sensing, and increasingly automated and regularized methods in the field threaten to erode less structured engagement with the environment and to isolate the essentially haptic experience of walking through the landscape from the work of formal archaeological data collection. As an example, my long-time collaborator David Pettegrew found it necessary to return to the Isthmus of Corinth where he had conducted a three-year rigorously systematic intensive pedestrian survey to attempt to understand the experience of moving and living in the landscape. During the formal field seasons, David kept his head inclined toward his clipboard and forms while mapping new units, collecting environmental data from each 3000 sq. m. unit, and recording artifact counts on highly-specific paper forms. In his return trips to the same region, he maintained an unstructured notebook to record many large-scale observations that he missed during the structured field seasons. This is no fault of David’s, but a typical byproduct of intensive survey methods that privilege both highly granular approaches to space as well as the methods used to document this space. In fact, Richard Blanton has referred to this almost-atomic focus on intensive data collection as “Mediterranean Myopia.” A recent volume of the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory has asked whether it is even possible to reconcile quantitative methods and more phenomenological approaches to the landscape. The central issues involved with archaeological data of any kind reside at the intersection of processural methods and increasingly deskilled data collection procedures. [SLIDE] Complex and generally large data sets produced by late 20th and early 21st century projects require efficiency. Less structured and more experiential approaches to landscapes require similarly unstructured amounts of time. So this is the context for recent advances in 3D imaging technology which have offered ways to streamline one of the most time consuming aspects of in-field data collection: trench illustration. [SLIDE] Trench plans traditionally represent an important source for both the excavation process and the archaeological record. Time consuming and highly interpretative traditional trench drawings are the tangible, 2-dimensional expressions of the various spatial relationships that form the basis for archaeological interpretation. They are most frequently produced at trench side by the trench supervisor and accompany photographs and textual descriptions. The plans typically depict and clarify objects and relationships essential to understanding the excavation and depositional processes



preserved in the exposed trench. [SLIDE] Plans are sometimes festooned with interpretative notes and contribute to the first steps in archaeological interpretation. [SLIDE] While the number, detail, and frequency of trench plans vary according to project, typically each context receives a plan. Drawing the plan represents a pause in the hectic routine of excavation and an opportunity to clarify features in the trench and the excavation process. Like maintaining the trench notebook, the act of drawing is slow and methodical, encouraging the kind of scrutiny that can inform later excavation decisions and produce features and relationships obscured by visual noise or revealed through careful measurement. Depending on the size of the trench, the number of features, the scale, and the amount of detail, trench plans can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to illustrate. [SLIDE] In comparison, it took a trench supervisor 10-15 minutes to take a sufficient number of photographs for a 5 x 5 m. trench to produce an accurate Agisoft Photoscan 3D image at Tel Akko. The computer time to process these images, of course, was much longer, but this occurred either simultaneous with field work or at times when field work was not possible. This reflects a substantial improvement in efficiency when compared with experiments conducted just a few years earlier at Chersonesos, where a combination of georeferenced photographs and elevation control points on the features and the surface of the trench took the same amount of time as a trench plan executed by a skilled illustrator. The improvements in software have eliminated the need to collect numerous control points as well as photographs, while maintaining a level of spatial control that is superior to even the most skilled illustrator. At the same time, the issues noted by Adam Rabinowitz at Chersonesos persist: photographs cannot replace the interpretative aspect of trench side illustrating. Preparing an illustration from a structure-from-motion model or a georeferenced photograph, after the fact and away from the trench, shifts the physical locus of archaeological knowledge production and evokes longstanding debates about how media such as photographs and plans transforms our reading of physical relationships on the ground. Finally, the practices involved in collecting 3D data contribute to the deskilling of archaeological practices in the field. Disciplines [SLIDE] Over the last few decades, archaeologists have become increasingly interested in the relationship between practice and technology as a historical context. This has led to the discovery of Bruno Latour and Tim Ingold’s work en mass. These scholars have offered new ways to define the place of agency in how we understand social structures and power in ancient material culture. For example, a recent volume published by the Oriental Institute provides a sweeping overview of writing as technology in the archaeological record, and, for the purpose of my paper today, writing has useful parallels to some of the practices being displaced and transformed by digital technology in the field. Following Latour and Ingold, many of the contributors to this volume identify writing as part of a group of activities that produces authority within a complex ecology that extends from



performance to materials. This ecology defines a wide range of social, political, disciplinary, economic, and personal relationships. When we reflect on material corollaries for past practices, we would not hesitate to understand variations in both the practices and materials as keys to understanding how ancient societies structured certain kinds of social relations. In fact, the act of writing or drawing is often vital to understanding past “communities of practice” that embody the relationship between individual agency and structured social expectations. [SLIDE] Latour is willing to extend the status of agency even further to include individual objects and pieces of technology that he sees as actors embedded within dense networks (ANT). Ingold, and others, are skeptical, but nevertheless emphasize the role that technology, practices, and individuals play in constructing the conditions for agency and its (reciprocating) products. From the perspective of archaeological tools and practices, we can argue that using a digital camera, iPad, or laptop in the field creates fundamentally different relationships than using an architect’s table, clipboard, or field notebook. If we see disciplines as “communities of practice” then the changing roles of technology and practices in the field impact the situation of disciplinary knowledge. [SLIDE] Maguire and Shanks’ 1996 article on archaeology as craft provides another context for understanding archaeology as disciplinary practice. They argue that archaeological knowledge is produced “through a socially engaged practice which is not alienating, which edifies and provides diverse experience.” The character of archaeology as craft grounds it both in experience and resists the alienating division of labor. This is a romantic notion, that corresponds awkwardly to the realities of large and complex archaeological projects which rely on increasingly atomized and deskilled practices that remove the interpretative function from both the space of the field and the purview of the individual archaeologist. The traditional notion of the archaeologist as a craftsperson grounds authority in the performance of certain complex interpretative tasks in the field and the results of this work maintain a strong, physical link to an archaeologist’s embodied knowledge. [SLIDE] The official field notebook, for example, is the ultimate statement of the archaeologist’s craft. Produced on-site, individualized, handwritten, and deeply interpretative, traditional excavation notebooks often acquire the name of the project’s director or trench supervisors (e.g. Blegen’s Notebooks). [SLIDE] Architects producing site plans continue to sign their works connecting the practice of illustration with traditions of artistic production. Disciplinary authority, then, derived, in part, from the authority of the individual whose notebook became the source for our understanding of the physical remains. In a 2006 study, Jonathan Bateman noted that the act of illustrating produced significant authority in the field as it set apart an individual with significant technical expertise and interpretative acumen. The objects of the illustrator’s work, hand drawn plans, become valued artifacts of the archaeological project and embody the judgments, practices, and interpretations of both the illustrator and the project itself.



[SLIDE] Technological changes coincided with the shift from authorizing practices resting in the individual “artisanal” archaeologist to our disciplinary discourse. The collection of numerous photographs to produce a structure-from-motion model of a site, trench, context, or object, depends less upon the unique abilities of the photographer and more upon a set of established practices and software algorithms. Even access to photographic equipment is no longer a source of distinction on the project as relatively high-quality digital cameras are inexpensive, available, and satisfactory for the production of 3D images. [SLIDE] Photographic 3D models do not replace illustration entirely, of course, but they move the act of illustrating from the trench side to the computer lab. The displacement of this part of the archaeological process from the field to the lab represents a transformation of the haptic aspects of archaeological inquiry. The computer monitor becomes the trench and the impulse to maximize the quantity (and resolution) of the data collected in the field moves more time consuming practices of analysis to the margins of the archaeological field day and, sometimes, the field season. As a result, (in my somewhat alarmist and apocalyptic perspective) the object of archaeological investigation shifts from the trench to its digital surrogate (using Adam Rabinowitz’s term), and the posture of the archaeologist shifts from stooping at trench side to hunched over a laptop. [SLIDE] Imagining the future, we can see significant trends in how the locus of authority has changed as the process of deskilling archaeological practice continues. The use of technology like Agisoft to document the daily work and stratigraphic context present in each trench frees the trench supervisors from the responsibilities of trench illustration and corresponding role in the time consuming interpretative process (as the increasingly form-driven data collection forms replace the more open form notebooks) because efficiencies gained in primary data collection devolve through the project itself. In other words, project directors become more crucial to the functioning of technology than experiencing archaeology in the field. Thus, the discipline goes from being one grounded in a series of artisanal practices communicated through the shared experiences of field work to practices dominated by an increasingly atomized methodology and correspondently distributed models of authority. Conclusions I’d hate for my talk today to discourage anyone from continuing to adopt new technologies in the field, although I recognize the Luddite tones to my speculation. As advocates of a technologically infused archaeological practice we need to approach critically how our use of technology in the field shapes the nature of the knowledge we produce and the structure of our discipline. If archaeology will continue to stake claim to producing embodied knowledge grounded in experience and engagement with the landscape, objects, and physical relationships, then we need to acknowledge that recent technological developments and the systemizing discourse of



methodology present a challenge of sorts. It challenges us to become more aware of the relationship between the practice and the structure of archaeological knowledge.

Practice and Method in Creating 3D Models in Archaeology Digital Archaeological Practice A Workshop on the use of Technology in the Field William Caraher, University of North Dakota

Corinth Notebook: 988! Field !Value! Title !Zygouries Field Notebook! Author !Blegen, C.W.! Contents !Field Notes! Area !Agios Basilios! !Corinthia! !Zygouries! Site !Zygouries! City !Corinth! Country !Greece! http://...//id/corinth/notebook/988/html!

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