Towards a cost-effective three-dimensional documentation of archaeological excavations

Jeroen De Reu (Department of Archaeology, Ghent University)

Archaeological practice within the European context of heritage management is facing huge challenges in ways of recording and reproduction of ex-situ preserved sites. As a consequence of the Valletta-treaty, numbers of archived images and drawings of excavated structures as prime sources of past human activity, are exponentially growing. Contrarily to portable remains however, their future study and revision is biased by the two-dimensional character of the recorded data, rendering difficult their future reconstruction for new study or public dissemination. A more realistic three-dimensional (3D) way of recording and archiving should be pursued. In this paper the possibilities for 3D registration of archaeological features are examined in a computer vision-based approach.

Following a series of small-scale case studies (De Reu et al., 2013), an entire excavation was recorded in 3D during the summer of 2012. The 3D recording included all excavation surfaces, archaeological features (including stone structures), sections and two 75 m long soil profiles.

It proved to be a scientific and cost-effective improvement compared to traditional documentation methods. Advantages can be found in the high accuracy and straightforwardness of the methodology. The extraction of an orthophoto or a Digital Terrain Model from the 3D model makes it feasible to integrate detailed and accurate information into the digital archaeological excavation plan. The visual character of 3D surface modeling offers enhanced output-possibilities allowing a better documentation of in-situ structures for future research and a higher public participation and awareness for the archaeological heritage.


De Reu J., Plets G., Verhoeven G., De Smedt P., Bats M., Cherretté B., De Maeyer W., Deconynck J., Herremans D., Laloo P., Van Meirvenne M., De Clercq W., 2013. Towards a three-dimensional cost-effective registration of the archaeological heritage. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40(2): 1108-1121.

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