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Content archived on 2024-05-28

ADS 3D Viewer: a 3D Real-Time System for the Management and Analysis of Archaeological Data

Final Report Summary - ADS3DV (ADS 3D Viewer: a 3D Real-Time System for the Management and Analysis of Archaeological Data)

ADS3DV was a two-year interdisciplinary project designed to investigate how the adoption of WebGL (Web Graphics Library) by current web browsers can support the development of an open access infrastructure for the management and analysis of archaeological data. The aim of the interactive 3D platform (3D viewer) was not just the visualization of 3D archaeological data, but also the creation of an effective tool for the analysis and interpretation of the archaeological record. Thanks to ADS3DV multiple experts can share and analyse 3D replicas of the archaeological excavation record, which can now be revisited and subjected to new analytical techniques over the long term. In the past ten years the use of 3D technology in archaeology has demonstrated the strong potential of this new tool to support the communication and recording of cultural heritage. However, its efficacy for data analysis and interpretation had not yet been fully tested.

Using the ADS 3D viewer researchers can now analyse and interpret the archaeological record not just from text information and 2D representations of the archaeological excavation, but by interacting in real-time with high resolution 3D realistic and metric reproductions of the archaeological units. The possibility to share complex 3D models of archaeological sites and monuments, and the interpretations made by archaeologists during the excavation process on the web, will promote discussion between scholars and represents a revolutionary change in the discipline.

The 3D viewer was developed as a tool for the ADS (Archaeology Data Service), a major cyber-infrastructure hosted by the University of York. This collaboration was instrumental in defining significant data properties and developing appropriate archival standards. The ADS collections include over 40,000 unpublished fieldwork reports, over 20,000 journal articles and over 1000 data rich archives, ranging from single research projects (e.g. the Sutton Hoo burial site of one of England’s earliest Anglo-Saxon kings), to major transport infrastructure projects (e.g. Channel Tunnel Rail Link). Each project archive has a short introduction to the project and a download section. In the download section it is possible to view project data produced in different file formats, such as JPG (2D images) and ASCII and VRML files (3D data). Before ADS3DV, it was only possible to interrogate excavation archives by downloading individual files and reassembling the 3D geometry of the site, which demands a high level of IT skills and access to software by the end user. The 3D viewer provides a web-based means of visualizing a site in 3D and using the 3D model as a means of interrogating the underlying data.

Two versions of the viewer have been developed to answer the needs of different users. The first version, the Object Level 3D Viewer, was implemented to extend the browsing capability of ADS project archives by enabling the visualization of single 3D models. The 3D viewer offers users the possibility to interact with and analyse the 3D model in the 3D window embedded in the download web-page of the ADS projects archive, but also in full-screen mode using a trackball and different features (viewpoint, zoom, lighting and measuring; fig. 1).

The second version, the Stratigraphy 3D Viewer, is an extension which allows the exploration of a specific kind of aggregated data: the multiple layers of an archaeological stratigraphic sequence. Before the development of the 3D viewer the ADS repository stored the 3D models of each stratigraphic unit as single objects, without the possibility to explore their spatial and temporal relationship. The Stratigraphy Viewer aggregates the different geometric layers of archaeological stratigraphy into a single 3D environment, whereby the user may turn layers on and off, control their transparency, and explore the layered geometry using a simple mouse- or touch-based navigation mechanism, specifically designed to manipulate these kind of geometries (Fig. 2). This allows those unable to participate directly in the fieldwork to access, analyse and re-interpret the archaeological context remotely.

The ADS 3D Viewer infrastructure aims to contribute to an ongoing commitment of the European Research Council to support cyber-infrastructures which enhance and promote access to and preservation of European Cultural Heritage. The ADS 3D Viewer is the first example of a web-based visualization system for the preservation and analysis of archaeological stratigraphy integrated within the framework of a trusted digital repository. One of the main strengths of the viewer is its flexibility and adaptability. The ADS Stratigraphy 3D Viewer can be adapted and applied to case studies that use different excavation methods (i.e. arbitrary or stratigraphic). Moreover the structure of the viewer and the partition of 3D data can be adapted to case studies that require different visualization and organisation of the archived data.
By increasing the accessibility of digital and metric 3D representations of the excavation process and facilitating the interpretations made by different scholars of the same context on the web, the ADS 3D Viewer will be a useful instrument for the remote, collaborative study of complex archaeological datasets, promoting the use of 3D representations for the analysis, interpretation and knowledge production in Archaeology.

One of the primary goals of the ADS 3D Viewer project was the development of a tool that could have a significant impact upon archaeological practice, integrating both traditional and innovative data acquisition methods. The ADS 3D Viewer will help us understand if the effective integration of 3D technologies in day-to-day fieldwork practice is really possible, favouring the ‘digital turn’ in the archaeological recording on site. This research has the potential to transform the discipline, allowing inter-disciplinary, cross-border and ‘at-distance’ collaborative workflows, and enabling easier access to and analysis of archaeological data.