We tend to think of archaeology as a discipline for shovels and artifacts, but 3D modeling and GIS technology are helping professionals create precise maps and landscape features to more accurately conduct research. Although archaeology has traditionally been behind the technology curve, using the human senses more often than computers, today’s archaeologists are more adept with modern tools, analyzing computer-generated archaeological data before they ever step onto a site.
Bill Dickinson, principle GIS engineer for Exceptional Software Strategies, partly credits the spread of video games for the adoption of 3D.
“The 3D aspect of the games these days definitely makes a difference when you’re talking about the human brain being able to understand a 3D environment like Google Earth,” Dickinson says. “There is a generational learning curve when it comes to using 3D tools, with the newer generations, who have grown up with 3D and maneuvering around it on the computer, being completely comfortable exploring 3D data sets.”
In his March 27 webinar, Applied GIS—Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management, Dickinson will discuss how 3D modeling assists in minor and major archaeology projects.
“We’ll talk about how you can use Google Earth as a free resource to build your 3D model and even some basic GIS information,” Dickinson says.
In one of Dickinson’s recent projects, he took an archaeological data set from the Potomac River Basin that spread throughout Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland and plotted the information on Google Earth in 3D.
“You can immediately see that a particular site is only 50 feet from the water, or that it’s way up on the hillside far from any type of water source we know of,” Dickinson says.
Dickinson says Google Earth also allows rubber sheeting of site plan images over the top of the digital terrain.
“If I have a location and a site map, I can zoom to that location in Google Earth, bring in my JPEG image, lay it over top of the terrain, and stretch it in different ways until it fits exactly where it’s supposed to on the Earth,” he says. “You can start seeing the way particular set of archaeological data sits within the real world environment before you even head out into the field.”
In South Africa, multidimensional GIS applications have been used to model Pleistocene Caves and Paleo-Environments, reconstructing prehistoric landscape as old as 30,000 to 420,000 years ago. Researchers have also developed 3D GIS of the archaeological excavation and implemented it for the on-going excavation of the famous Biblical site of Megiddo in Israel.
The technology is also used on the popular PBS popular television show Time Team, where archaeologists use data to rebuild lost cities and sites.
It’s no surprise to Dickinson, who is an archaeologist and a GIS professional, that 3D GIS mapping has taken off over the past 10 years in the archaeology field.
“I personally think that 3D is easier for the human brain to understand, because that’s how we think normally,” Dickinson says.