Sketchup and Archaeology – Iron Age Roundhouse


One of the projects I’ve been working on has been reconstructing a roundhouse we found at Caerau, Cardiff, using Sketchup to create the main frame, and V-Ray to render it as an image. This will then be used to fade over some footage of the archaeological site, to show a transition between what we can see and what would have been present on site.

For this purpose I created a very basic roundhouse model, coupled with a fortification mound and a sheer drop behind it. All of this was based on the GIS data I had of the site, so it does represent what we actually found on site.

The model itself is pretty simple, but it gave me a chance to play around with a few different elements of Google Sketchup, which will then be useful for more complex models. In particular I was looking at the application customised textures, the creation of backgrounds, and the use of rounded corners to create realistic mounds.

Customised textures is one of the main points of 3D modelling, and is extremely useful to give the model a more realistic feel. The problem is that it is really hard for someone as artistically challenged as myself to create good textures, so I resorted to using a combination of pre-made ones instead. I used Photoshop to layer three different grass materials, and I rendered patches of each more opaque, to create many different coloured patches. This made the ground surface on the model much more realistic, as it’s  not a repeating pattern any more, but a more complex and varied one, with different shades in different areas.

I then realised that one of the elements that really made the model lack realism was the background. The Sketchup standard rendering mode is to create a background that looks like the sky, which with particular angles is fine, but that becomes a problem if we want to get specific images, like in this case.


Therefore at first I decided to create a large cylinder shape around the entire model, and then paint it using a stock image of a panorama found online. This failed as the cylinder is actually made of many different faces, each of which started the texture from the origin point, thus making it repeat. Therefore I decided to use a flat surface instead, creating a sort of shield I could move around where needed, and that could be placed in the background of the rendered image much like a green screen in video editing.


Finally, The mound itself looked extremely blocky, as Sketchup is not ideal when it comes to rounded surfaces. I tried using the Rounded Angle Plugin that I’ve mentioned before, and made the area of impact quite large. The result was exactly what I wanted, as it created a much more realistic mound, although it’s not ideal for the base, which can be a problem from some angles.

Overall I think these three tips are really useful, and I shall be using them from now onwards to create better large scale models, and especially to simplify and improve the rendering process.



Reconstruction of St. Mary’s Church – Caerau

Here is my first video animation of Saint Mary’s church in Caerau, Cardiff. I made the model a few months ago of this beautiful church, which unfortunately is only partially standing today. It is based on a plan of the cemetery and a number of photographs I found from when it was still complete.
Sketchup itself is an easy to use software and is perfect for reconstructing archaeological sites, especially if all that is needed is a way to show the plans in 3 dimensions. By tracing over the original drawings and pushing/pulling the surfaces you can create models of large-scale excavations in little time. It also allows to build on those plans and recreate what the site would have looked like, in order to better convey the archaeology to the general public. Some research is often needed and a little guesswork sometimes is essential, but with some knowledge of the site great models can be achieved.
This model in particular is also the first time I have worked on rendering the surfaces to make them more realistic. First of all the textures are more in detail than the standard ones, but also I have been using the Round Corners plugin by Fredo, which means there are less jiggered edges. This gives an overall more appealing feel. Finally I changed the lighting to in order to create better shadows. There is still more that can be done, but that will follow.
Finally, the animation was done by exporting the model using V-Ray, and then making them into a video using Adobe Premiere. A full guide on how to do it can be found here: (although here they use Adobe After Effects).

Community Engagement and Online Galleries

One of the main aims of the 2013 excavation at Caerau was to engage the community as much as possible, so that this amazing hill fort would become part of the people living in Cardiff and particularly Ely, rather than something separate from them. During the four weeks spent on site hundreds of school children were shown around the site and asked to perform tasks such as writing letters to the Iron Age, washing finds and making pottery.

In particular the kids were asked to make some “celtic heads” using clay, basically faces decorated in any way they liked. The results are extremely artistic and are worthy of being put on display, something which I realised may be possible to do using Photogrammetry.

Hence having selected 40 or so of the most well preserved heads (some had cracked due to the sun) I proceeded to 3D them and the results can be found at . This way everyone can appreciate the great work these kids put into them.


At the same time this shows another potential for Photogrammetry, which is creating online galleries, potentially entire museum collections stored on the web and accessible to all.