By Sterling Hall
March 28, 2019
When most people think of archaeology, they think of scenes such as Howard Carter sifting through the dirt of King Tut’s tomb using only his bare hands and a trowel. Or maybe they think of Indiana Jones running through the jungle using only a whip for survival. Though these scenes provide interesting movie themes, archaeology today is far more technologically advanced than most people think.
One area where technology is making a big difference in archaeology is through the use of photogrammetry. The Exploring Joara Foundation was fortunate enough to have Dr. R.P. Stephen Davis, Jr., a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, give a speech on this topic at the annual meeting in November. Dr. Davis is a Research Archaeologist and Director of the Research Laboratories of Archaeology and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill.
Photogrammetry in the archaeological context is in essence using digital photographs to create accurate 3D models of existing archaeological artifacts. The process is fairly straightforward. An archaeologist takes multiple photographs of an object from various angles. A simple smartphone can be used to take the pictures. Then the archaeologist uses a software program which layers the photographs, thereby creating a 3D image. One of the most popular and widely used software programs is called Agisoft Photoscan.
Dr. Davis and his team have uploaded hundreds of 3D models of archaeological artifacts from all over North Carolina. You can find them at https://sketchfab.com/rla-archaeology. The site is an excellent way to view our State’s treasures without leaving the comfort of your own home.
Currently, Dr. David Moore and his team at Warren Wilson College are busy using this technology to create 3D models of some of the more interesting archaeological finds at the Berry Site, in Morganton, NC. Check out the 3D model of these artifacts at: https://sketchfab.com/WWCarchaeology/models
Technology is evolving to bring archaeology a little closer home for people, not just something that is imagined in a far off distant place. You can now find archaeology no further away than your home computer. In our next blog we will continue looking at technology in archaeology with the use of satellite imagery in archaeology.