What is Archaeological Visualization? How has it changed
over the years?

For years archaeologists have collaborated with artists to create realistic illustrations of ancient societies. What did the people who inhabited this site look like? How did they dress? How did they organize their communities? An artist's rendition of how something may have looked is an effective way for archaeologists to present interpretations about what archeological sites may have looked like when they were occupied. By compiling information into a visual
form, archaeologists can depict a society as it actually may have existed, rather than as the few remnants of it that remain in the archaeological record. This is the art of archaeological visualization.

2D artist's reconstruction of a Quapaw village
"Quapaw Village of Osotuoy" by Kugee Supernaw

Today archaeological visualization is taking off in new directions made possible by advances in 3D digital technologies. Going far beyond the traditional 2D sketch or painting, archaeologists are now reconstructing entire archaeological sites using 3D computer graphics. Explore an ancient Anasazi kiva, walk through a reconstruction of a Northern Plains Indian site, or take a virtual tour of an old castle in England - the possibilities are endless. While 3D visualization is not entirely new to the discipline, it has recently gained momentum with the advent of more powerful computers, better 3D acquisition systems, faster processing software, and the internet.

Of all of the new tools and techniques available to archaeologists today, the most significant of them all is the internet! Today more and more archaeological sites are becoming available at our fingertips. We no longer have to travel thousands and thousands of miles and across oceans to visit sites; we can now tour them at the touch of a button.

There are a lot of fascinating projects going on right now pertaining to archaeological visualization. We have compiled a brief list of some projects and included their associated web links in the Other Cool Projects section of this site. I encourage you to visit this section to get an idea of the magnitude of work being done in this area. Crumbled buildings are being reconstructed, ancient landscapes are being revisited, and fragile monuments are being preserved digitally. Please visit the section of Other Cool Projects to learn more...

Some Important Issues in Archaeological Visualization

How real do we make our models? How do we distinguish what we know from what we don't know ? Are our models an accurate portrayal of history? A lot of the issues surrounding the topic of archaeological visualization have remained unchanged for years. Ever since the first sketch of how an ancient ceremony may have looked or how an archaeological site may have been organized, archaeologists have been struggling with what is the fundamental crux of all archaeology – missing information.

Archaeology by its very nature is incomplete. It is an assortment of broken and weathered clues that allude to some part of human history. The goal of archaeology is to piece together the subtle clues left in the record into a comprehensive explanation of how people lived and interacted with the world around them. How to we confront these issues in the new world of digital 3D imaging?

Some Important Issues to Consider:

-- How do we distinguish what we know (i.e. the four post molds, 2 pottery sherds, and the charred corn seeds) from what we portray in our models (i.e. the Native American woman in her hut roasting corn in a pot)?

-- How real should we make our models? Sterile-geometric model vs organic-textured models…which is better? Should we include humans in our models to improve their validity?

-- How much control should the user have in navigating a virtual site environment?

-- Methods for archiving 3D models? Are there any? Is it important?

-- Prioritizing what to visualize? You cannot portray everything about a site, so how do you prioritize what to display and what not to display?

-- Texturing? Lighting? Rendering techniques?

-- Who should design these reconstructions? The archaeologist or the artist?


Pictures from Rock Art
Sites throughout Arkansas

Visit the Arkansas Archaeological Survey's website to learn more about Rock Art in Arkansas!

Home | Project Overview | What is Visualization? | Equipment | Methods | Rock Art in Arkansas | Links

© Copyright 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Arkansas Archaeological Survey (AAS)
and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST)
For more information - Contact Angelia Smith: asmith@cast.uark.edu