Part 2 – 3D Reconstruction Literature

In this section I would like to go through some projects I have been reading about that I think are very useful for understanding 3D Reconstruction in Archaeology. Before delving into the practicalities of the technology it is important to assess where the field is at right now.


An image from Champion et al. (2012) showing the reconstructed city of Palenque.

If you look through the literature, 3D Reconstruction is often scarcely documented and results are limited. The three major critique points I have encountered are to do with accuracy, lack of human element and on use. Here is a brief overview:

  • Accuracy: studies lack background information on how the model was achieved, and create the false idea that the reconstruction is absolutely certain, while often it is simply one of many interpretations.
  • Lack of human element: based on Thomas (2004a; 2004b) and Tilley (2004), 3D Reconstruction is seen as a purely visual subject, alienated from human experience.
  • Use: 3D modelling is used simply to present sites, and are seen as add-ons. In reality, they provide great scope for interpretation.

The first paper I would like to mention is “Digital reconstruction and visualisation in archaeology” by Dell’Unto et al. (2012). On the subject of accuracy in 3D Reconstruction, Dell’Unto et al. propose the use of a series of levels of reconstruction: by identifying and recording the sources for each portion of the model, it is possible to assess the relative accuracy of each part. The first level of reconstruction is based on in situ elements, which are nearly certain, while the last level is dedicated to purely hypothetical reconstructions. This is a great approach as it means the modeller is accountable for the model, but at the same time they have the freedom to experiment as it is clear from the recording what they have done.


Levels of reconstruction by Dell’Unto et al. (2012).

On the topic of human experience, I can mention a few papers that implicitly refute the ideas proposed by Tilley and Thomas. While 3D modelling is indeed an exceptionally visual subject, it is not simply about looking at images. An entire current of thought deals with ‘presence’, the feeling of belonging a person gets when exploring a 3D environment. It seems that people get involved with the models to the point they ‘experience’ them, as if they were present on site. So while Tilley and Thomas refuse Visualisation as they prefer to explore the site in first person, I would argue that you can do that with 3D Reconstruction. An author I have come across which deals with ‘presence’ is Ch’ng (2009; Ch’ng and Stone 2006; Ch’ng et al. 2011), although I think the forerunner of this field is Chalmers (2002; Chalmers and DeBattista 2009; Devlin and Chalmers 2001; Devlin et al. 2003; Gutierrez et al. 2006). He has made exceptional steps in recreating archaeological sites with near perfect realism, in order to increase the sense of ‘presence’ people experience. His work on illumination is unmatched, and his articles are well worth a read.

chalmers and debattista

Different lighting effects as studied by Chalmers and DeBattista (2009).

Additionally the work of Dawson and Levy (2006; Dawson et al. 2007, 2011, 2013) are an exceptional testimony of how people respond to 3D environments. They recreated a Thule hut and then invited some members to explore them, recording their reactions and showing their emotional attachment.

Dawson and Levy are also prime examples of 3D Reconstruction being used for interpretation, as their analysis of hut building showed that there was significant reuse of bone structures. Many others have explored the utility of this type of technology, so it is hard to pinpoint individual papers of significance. Champion et al. (2012) use gaming software to educate users on the archaeology of the Palenque city. This is by far one of the best studies I have encountered, and I believe they are the forerunners of ‘serious games’ for archaeology.

champion 2

Another view of the ‘serious game’ by Champion et al. (2012).

Similarly the work of Forte et al. (2012) shows much promise in the same area. Finally, the work of Murgatroyd et al.(2011) is not strictly related to reconstruction, but the simulations they have run on Byzantine army movement is very important for understanding the reach of scripting, which can be combined to 3D reconstruction.

I hope this has provided you with an overlook of all the potential applications of 3D software. Over the next couple of weeks I aim to outline the reconstruction process, in order to open up the path to scripting.



Ch’ng, E. and Stone, R. J. (2006). 3D Archaeological Reconstruction and Visualisation: An Artificial Life Model for Determining Vegetation Dispersal Patterns in Ancient Landscapes. Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualisation.

Ch’ng, E. (2009). Experimental archaeology: is virtual time travel possible? Journal of Cultural Heritage 10 pp.458-470.

Ch’ng, E., Chapman, H., Gaffney, V., Murgatrayd, P.. Gaffney, C. and Neubauer, W. (2011). From sites to landscapes: how computer technology is shaping archaeological practice. IEEE Computer Society 11 pp.40-46.

Chalmers, A. (2002). Very realistic graphics for visualising archaeological site reconstruction. Proceedings of the 18th Spring Conference on Computer Graphics pp. 7-12.

Chalmers, A. and DeBattista, K. (2009). Level of realism for serious games. 2009 Conference in Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications pp.225-232.

Champion, E., Bishop, I. and Dave, B. (2012). The Palenque project: evaluating interaction in an online virtual archaeology site. Virtual Reality 16 pp.121-139.

Dawson, P., Levy, R., Gardner, D. and Walls M. (2007). Simulating the Behaviour of Light inside Arctic Dwellings: Implications for Assessing the Role of Vision in Task Performance. World Archaeology Vol.39 No.1 pp.17-35.

Dawson, P., Levy, R. and Lyons, N. (2011). “Breaking the fourth wall”: 3D virtual worlds as tools for knowledge repatriation in archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology 11(3) pp.387-402.

Dawson, T., Vermehren, A., Miller, A., Oliver, I. and Kennedy, S. (2013). Digitally enhanced community rescue archaeology. Proceedings of First International Congress on Digital Heritage pp.29-36.

Devlin, K. and Chalmers, A. (2001). Realistic visualisation of the Pompeii frescoes. Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Computer Graphics, Virtual Reality and Visualisation pp.43-48.

Devlin, K., Chalmers, A. and Brown, D. (2003). Predictive lighting and perception in archaeological representation. UNESCO World Heritage in the Digital Age.

Dell’Unto, N., Leander, A. M., Ferdani, D., Dellepiane, M., Callieri, M., Lindgren, S. (2013). Digital reconstruction and visualisation in archaeology: case-study drawn from the work of the Swedish Pompeii Project. Digital Heritage International Congress pp.621-628.

Forte, M., Lercari, N., Onsurez, L., Issavi, J. and Prather, E. (2012). The Fort Ross Virtual Warehouse Project: A Serious Game for Research and Education. 18th International Conference on Virtual Systems and Multimedia pp.315-322.

Gutierrez, D., Sundstedt, V., Gomez, F. and Chalmers, A. (2006). Dust and light: predictive virtual archaeology. Journal of Cultural Heritage 8 pp.209-214.

Levy, R. and Dawson, P. (2006). Reconstructing a Thule whalebone house using 3D imaging. IEEE MultiMedia. Vol.13 No.2 pp.78-83.

Murgatroyd, P., Crenen, B., Theodoropoulos, G., Gaffney, V. and Haldon, J. (2011). Modelling medieval military logistics: an agent-based simulation of a Byzantine army on the march. Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory Vol.18 No.4 pp.488-506.

Thomas, J. (2004). Archaeology and Modernity. London: Routledge.

Thomas, J. (2004). The Great Dark Book: Archaeology, Experience, and Interpretation. In: Earle, T. and Pebbles, C. S. A Companion to Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing pp.21-36.

Tilley, C. (2004). The materiality of stone: exploration in landscape phenomenology. Oxford: Berg.