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Technoheritage Special Issue

Underwater photogrammetric monitoring techniques for mid-depth

Enrique Aragón a,∗ , Sebastia Munar b , Javier Rodríguez b , Kotaro Yamafune c
Flinders University of South Australia, Sturt Rd, Bedford Park SA 5042, Australia
Institut Balear d’Estudis en Arqueologia Maritima, Islas Baleares, Spain
Texas A & M University, Texas, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Over the last few years there have been advances in technical diving, which have made it more accessible
Received 28 October 2017 (including financially), making it possible to dive to greater depths and, consequently, reach underwater
Accepted 19 December 2017 archaeological sites in deeper waters, which were previously considered “untouchable”. As these sites are
Available online xxx
now at potential risk of anthropic interference, new approaches to monitoring techniques are therefore
considered necessary to ensure the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. This paper presents a
Keywords: protocol for monitoring techniques to be applied to ‘mid-depth archaeological remains’. The proposed
Underwater cultural heritage
technique is based on a combination of low-cost photogrammetric methods. Using as a case study a
Roman era shipwreck from Majorca, off the east coast of Spain, this paper presents an ideal protocol for
Monitoring techniques the essential first stages in protecting and managing the archaeological record of an underwater site at
medium depth. The process gives immediate results, using photogrammetric and orthophoto coverage
of the site to build up a highly accurate site map, as well as recording high-definition images in order to
create a computer model of the site.
© 2017 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction with no evidence of looting activity, is an important “in situ” site,

showing the almost intact layout of the artefacts aboard.
The Cabrera archipelago, near the island of Majorca, off the The first clandestine recoveries of archaeological materials in
east coast of Spain (Fig. 1), has a proliferation of maritime cultural Cabrera occurred in the middle of the 20th century [4]: those ship-
heritage sites. Currently, these include two from the Punic period wrecks in shallow waters being the first to be affected. As the more
(Cabrera II and VII), five from the Early Roman Age (Cabrera IV, V, accessible assemblages were destroyed, the shipwrecks at greater
VI, VIII and XI), four from the Late Roman Age (Cabrera I, III, IX and depths began to be looted ([5–10]).
XIV) and three modern era sites (Cabrera X, XII and XIII). There are
also isolated finds from medieval times, both Islamic and Chris- 2. The archaeological background
tian, as well as many other remains whose archaeological nature
has yet to be determined ([1,2]). While there have been studies on Given its geostrategic importance, the Balearic Islands played a
numerous underwater sites such as Cabrera I and Cabrera III [3], key role [11] in the maritime connectivity of the ancient world,
the Spanish archipelago is still surprising us with new discoveries growing first from a local economic influence to being a major
in deeper waters. This is the case with Cabrera XIV, an amphorae regional one then, following the archipelago’s integration into the
accumulation associated with a 3rd–4th century AD shipwreck. Roman Empire, becoming even more pivotal in the connection of
Exceptionally well preserved, this archaeological assemblage was trade routes. Maritime traffic would have been intense in the waters
totally unknown, resting in barely 70 metres of water. The cargo, of the Balearic Islands during the Roman Period and consequently
the islands are essential in understanding the connections between
production areas such as Hispania (current Spain) and the North
African Coast, and consumption areas such as Gaul (current France)
Abbreviations: IBEAM, Institut Balear d’Estudis en Arqueologia Maritim; UCH,
or the Italian Peninsula.
Underwater Cultural Heritage; UNESCO 2001, Convention on the Protection of
Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001; MCH, Maritime Cultural Heritage. As to the nature of this trading activity, several authors [12,13]
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +(+61) 0424271397. have differentiated between two common types of maritime ship-
E-mail address: (E. Aragón). ments of African products during the 3rd–4th Centuries A.D.
1296-2074/© 2017 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.

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Fig. 1. Cabrera’s island location.

Firstly, “homogeneous” cargoes composed of only one type of • identify historical and archaeological context;
amphorae/product, all from the same provenance. Secondly, “het- • identify cargo and dimensions;
erogeneous” cargoes, with amphorae of diverse provenance such as • establish an evaluation of the current state of conservation.
Baetica or Lusitania (south-western Roman provinces of the Iberian
Peninsula), as well as North Africa. These cargoes have been clearly The proposed monitoring control plan needed to take into
identified thanks to a high number of wrecks dating from this time account the following factors:
frame [14].
One of the clearest cases of this type of cargo is represented • economically affordable;
by the Cabrera III shipwreck [15], where amphorae from Baetica • technical optimization (infrastructure);
and Lusitania are combined with others of diverse African origin. It • efficient at scientific level (time investment + results).
is within this historical-archaeological context that the shipwreck
Cabrera XIV, case study and object of the present article, would
4. Material and methods
appear to be framed.

The fieldwork of the Cabrera XIV shipwreck was governed by

3. Research aim such physical conditions as the site’s depth and submarine currents
observed, along with external factors such as the available budget
This article will discuss the application of existent workflow and, consequently, the time available to carry out the work. Taking
([16,17]) for shipwreck assessment, integrating digital techniques, into account all these factors, a protocol of action was drawn up,
to a mid-depth shipwreck; now at higher risk than in previous whose main objective was to obtain an orthophoto using multi-
decades (for reasons explained above). The Cabrera XIV appears photography and photogrammetry methodology [17] that would
to be a perfect scenario for this discussion, being the target of a allow us to create a panoramic image of the site with a high enough
project with a proposed protocol plan embedded in a management resolution to be able to study the wreck and site in detail.
workflow drawn up by the institutions in charge of the protection
of underwater archaeological finds.
4.1. Diving conditions
The project was managed by the “Institut Balear d’Estudis en
Arqueologia Maritima (IBEAM)” together with the Cultural Depart-
As mentioned above, the available budget made time manage-
ment of the Majorca Council and the administration team for the
ment an important factor, so the underwater intervention was
Cabrera Islands’ Nature Reserve. IBEAM was established in 2012 for
planned over two days fieldwork, incorporating the maximum
researching, protecting, preserving and disseminating the richness
work benefit whilst ensuring safe limits for diving. On top of these
of the area’s underwater/maritime culture heritage in line with the
previous conditions, the site environment at −70 m depth; spread
2001 UNESCO Convention on the protection of Underwater Her-
out over 300 m2 ; with a visibility of 25–30 m; and low current
together defined the correct diving plan.
The intervention plan was drawn up in accordance with this con-
The solution proposed for the archaeological intervention was
vention so as to minimize the impact on the UCH. As acquiring a
the use of a rebreather system ‘an electromechanical device that
maximum information record was a priority, IBEAM, together with
can provide breathing gas through infusion of oxygen and recycling
the Mallorca Council and the Cabrera National Park authorities,
of carbon dioxide through the use of a chemical scrubber’ ([18]:6).
formulated the next steps to be taken:
The composition of the gas mix used was: 15% O2 , 50% He, 15% N,
allowing 45 minutes of effective work time. A decompression plan
• to identify the shipwreck’s exact position; of 150 minutes which included two safety stops where divers were

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supported by two 50/20 mixed gas tanks at −21 m and another two process during each dive (as opposed to RAW images, where the
of pure oxygen at −6 m were integrated into the total operation. large data size of each image means that fewer images can be
Each diver also carried their own safety tank with 18/45 mixed stored).
gas. Tanks were anchored to the safe line that was positioned as For data collection, it was decided that the photographer would
a guide-line to drive divers from the surface to the archaeological stay no more than 2 m above the shipwreck, so that we could cap-
site, minimizing physical effort. The safety plan took into account ture as much detail as possible in the resulting photos (Fig. 4). It had
two divers operating underwater, with two further divers at the also been decided that the photographer would make three passes
surface with extra safety equipment, to be provided in case of an — ‘flights’ or ‘tracks’ — in order to obtain a two-dimensional model
emergency. (orthophoto) of the shipwreck (Fig. 5). The first flight consisted
of covering the perimeter; following the line of targets, making
sure to capture two targets in each photograph to assist correct
4.2. Technical support
overlapping during the edition process. In the second flight, the
photographer had to cover the whole of the wreck by performing
For photogrammetric modelling purposes, at the Cabrera XIV
transects from north to south. The third and last track served to
site a Nikon D810 camera with a 14 mm lens and Seacam’s SeaFlash
guarantee complete coverage of the wreck by crossing from east
150D flash unit were employed. A second camera, a Sony RX100
to west. During the three passes, two constants were maintained:
IV, was used to film the intervention and photograph specific
the position of the camera at an angle of 90◦ above the horizontal
amphorae in detail (Fig. 2).
plane, and a minimum overlap of 50% between the images taken
on each transect.
4.3. Workflow and recording procedure

A first diving session served a double purpose, the support and 5. Theory. A new concept: mid-depth shipwrecks
safety diver marked out the perimeter with scales at a distance
of 2 m outside the site boundary for data collection. This step was Deep-water sites have seen increasing attention from maritime
crucial to ensure the accuracy of the model. Twenty-six 4 × 4 cm archaeologists thanks to the improvement of remotely operated
targets were used to create the scales (Fig. 3). These were printed vehicles (ROV) and technical advances in autonomous underwa-
in PVC to avoid reflection and were stuck to metal plates to weight ter vehicles (AUV). At the same time as these sites are becoming
them down and keep them stable in their position (template from increasingly accessible, they are also becoming more threatened by
Agisoft Photoscan) at a 3 m distance from each other. Inside the human activities such as oil and gas development, bottom trawling,
shipwreck, a total of 8 × 1 m scale bars were positioned to facilitate and commercial salvaging ([19]:10).
the trilateration when editing the photogrammetry model. This interest for deep-water sites has been prevalent for
Two diving sessions were programmed for the second day of decades, but advances in the use of the above technologies have
fieldwork: one for the photogrammetry recording procedure and a made it possible to locate and intervene in multiple sites up to
second one for capturing further detail and clearing the site at the depths of 70 m [20], and are sometimes even used for remains as
end of the process of all the equipment used during the interven- deep as 1300 m [21]. The exploration of these deep-sites has not
tion. The camera was programmed to record in time-lapse mode always, unfortunately, been for research purposes, but rather has
with flash, with a shooting frequency of once every two seconds. often included salvage activities which might better be considered
We opted to store the files as good compression JPEGs (approx- as closer to the cliché of ‘treasure hunters’ ([22]:402).
imately 1:4), which gave us better guarantees that we would be Focusing on sites located between 60–70 m, at a similar depth
able to store the large volume of images captured throughout the to our case study, from the first interventions to almost the

Fig. 2. Portrait shipwreck amphorae typology.

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Fig. 3. Targets and scale used during the photogrammetry fieldwork.

Fig. 4. Maximum detail resolution example from the photomosaic image.

beginning of the 21st century, we can observe a rise in the use shipwreck, the local authorities considered it a priority that such
of costly machinery that has made the identification and record an action plan should be drawn up.
of archaeological remains possible ([23]:23–98). Over the last ten One of the criticisms that underwater archaeologists often
years photogrammetry methods have been proposed as a method receive from terrestrial archaeologists is that underwater archae-
of obtaining an effective set of data about underwater remains of ology does not match the site recording standards that terrestrial
diverse nature and condition: from highly costly technical support archaeology achieves. This is true to some extent: because of the
such as remotely operated underwater vehicles [24] to very low nature of terrestrial sites, on land it is possible for archaeologists
cost techniques using action cameras [25]. to record layers of sediment and their contents, which is called
Over the last few years recreational diving using techniques such the study of stratigraphy. At the end of a terrestrial field season,
as mixing gas or equipment such as rebreather systems, has become the archaeology team may have sequential layers of site plans that
more popular. These practices make deeper water accessible, and help them understand stratigraphy and the site formation pro-
consequently underwater archaeological sites which have hereto cesses that have occurred there. Contrarily, nautical archaeologists
been considered “untouchable”, are no longer so. This new context find it difficult to produce layers of site plans because working
should be interpreted as a new scenario in risk assessment. New time underwater is so much more limited. For example, when
approaches to monitoring techniques are therefore necessary at the archaeological site is more than 30 m deep maritime archae-
this point, to ensure the protection of this newly exposed Underwa- ologists can only work on the site for less than 60 minutes per
ter Cultural Heritage; and following the discovery of this particular day. In addition, running underwater excavations is tremendously

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Fig. 5. Photomosaic of the Cabrera XIV shipwreck site created in 2017 during the team’s first visit to the site. It consists of 2000 photos, taken in 45 minutes at 68 m (ca. 2 m
above the wreck).

expensive because they require special equipment, including a dive and other alterations that occur on archaeological sites through
boat. Nautical archaeologists are usually able to create only one site the years, which can then assist with making predictions about the
plan at the end of the field season. In short, to date it has been nearly near-future conditions of the site in terms of in situ preservation.
impossible for nautical archaeologists to produce layers of a site Furthermore, these deviation analyses can be used to monitor the
plan to help understand stratigraphy and site formation processes. long-term condition of both excavated and unexcavated sites. To
However, several years ago, PhotoScan, a fairly inexpensive conclude, using 3D data produced by Computer Vision Photogram-
and accurate photogrammetry software appeared on the market. metry and deviation analysis software, nautical archaeologists can
Nautical archaeologists realized the importance of its data pro- track the progression of excavations in order to understand both
ducing ability. Today, adopting the correct methods and using the past and the future of shipwreck sites.
photogrammetry software and other computer programs, nautical
archaeologists can produce archaeological site plans fairly quickly. 6. Results and discussion
With this ability comes a clearer understanding of the site forma-
tion processes that act upon underwater archaeological sites, and One of the great benefits of using photogrammetry to record
these may help provide accurate predictions of what could hap- shipwreck sites is that it can produce 1:1 scale constrained pho-
pen to those archaeological sites in the future, which can, in turn, togrammetric models of shipwreck sites and replicate underwater
help archaeologists develop reliable preservation and monitoring cultural heritage locations in real scale in digital format.
plans. There are now several computer analysis software programs In 2001, the UNESCO agreed a Convention for Underwater Cul-
that archaeologists can use to analyze data that was produced using tural Heritage, after which the underwater archaeology community
Computer Vision Photogrammetry. One of these programs is Cloud- took due note of the importance of in situ preservation and became
Compare, which can be used to support archaeological site analysis dedicated to implementing it. This convention promotes the pro-
and facilitate site monitoring. tection of underwater cultural heritage sites; however, in situ
As a brief introduction, CloudCompare is an open source 3D preservation is not a perfect solution in terms of protection. Archae-
point cloud analysis software. PhotoScan can export dense point ologists and governments must anticipate unexpected factors of
clouds in a variety of file formats. Some of the file formats, such as destruction. The Taliban, ISIS, and other extreme activists have
ASTM E57 and ASPRS LAS files, are compatible between PhotoScan destroyed cultural heritage and museum displays in Syria and Iraq.
and CloudCompare. If the photogrammetric model is georefer- Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activ-
enced, the point cloud also automatically contains geographical ity have also unexpectedly destroyed cultural heritage sites. For
information, meaning that exported point clouds will open in the underwater cultural heritage sites, the activities of treasure hunters
correct location at the correct scale. CloudCompare’s greatest capa- and net-dragging trawlers are always a major threat. Consequently,
bility is deviation analysis; in other words, it can compare two we must consider some type of comprehensive protective strategy
different point clouds and visualize the differences using colors. along with in situ preservation. The authors strongly believe that
Using this point analysis software, maritime archeologists are Computer Vision Photogrammetry is possibly the best solution. If
able to track the progression of an excavation, both short-term archaeologists can succeed in creating 1:1 scale constrained pho-
and long-term; helping them track the accumulation of sediments togrammetric models of underwater cultural heritage sites, their

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