Applications of Photogrammetry in Archaeology:
When it comes to archaeology, the main applications of photogrammetry have to do with accessibility, documentation and presentation1. As with all archaeological artifacts, accessibility is always best practice. Photogrammetry and 3D models of artifacts can be widely shared and accessed, allowing the general public to interact directly with data and archeological information.
If we wanted to share our findings about Seccombe House with a scholar at a different academic institution, all we would need is an internet connection to send the model we made. They could then interact and interpret the house without having to travel for a visit. The same idea goes for culturally significant sites around the world that many members of the public would never be able to travel to or to explore in person. With photogrammetry, they would be able to tour and engage with any site or artifact that had been modeled and published. The level of accessibility that photogrammetry provides advances the study of archaeology and helps disseminate archaeological information to the public.
The possibility to create a digital model of any artifact or site has a remarkable impact on the field of archaeology in terms of documentation. Not only does photogrammetry allow findings to be easily shared and accessed as mentioned above, it grants archaeologists the ability to safely store an unlimited amount of artifacts as long as they have the capacity to collect the digital files that hold the photogrammetry models. These models can also be combined with additional GIS tools to aid in the processes of analysis and interpretation.2 If an artifact is too delicate to be studied physically, an archaeologist could collect images of it and create a photogrammetry model that they could observe and engage with in a way that would not have been possible before. Additionally, if conflict or natural disasters threaten collections, sites, or objects, these digitized collections could be the answer to preserving vast amounts of cultural heritage and research, even if original items are sadly lost. Last, in a time where the field of archaeology is entering a curation crisis, photogrammetry and digital modeling could be a major solution for problems with space and maintenance for artifacts. 3
Photogrammetry also greatly increases opportunities for experiential education and presentation. Websites such as sketchfab have been created as a way for the public to share and view 3D models. Individuals and institutions can easily present material remains of human culture to people and aid with the dissemination of archaeology to the public. Virtual tours are becoming an increasingly common method of sharing knowledge with the public because of how accessible they are. Many art museums started offering virtual tours during the COVID-19 pandemic so that people could still see and enjoy the art from the safety of their homes. The same principles can be applied to collections of artifacts from around the world. When thinking of experiential education, providing access to models of artifacts to teachers and professors is incredibly valuable.4 In elementary and middle school, 3D models of artifacts give children a chance to interact with the past. Teachers can use these objects to talk about the history of where their school might be located, how different groups of people lived, or why archeology matters. In higher education, professors can use models to enhance conversations about specific topics or illustrate aspects of artifacts. The creation of artifact replicas like this for a classroom or for experimental archaeology gives people the opportunity to touch and connect with the past in a way that is not harmful to an artifact’s preservation.
When thinking about the Seccombe House, all of these concepts are being addressed in the choice to make a model of it. The house is an aspect of Carleton’s history and one that will now be preserved for generations, even if the house is damaged or destroyed. It can allow future students and staff to directly interact with aspects of the campus that are no longer present in their original locations. Moreover, it gives citizens of Northfield a chance to interact with aspects of their community and the city’s historical past. Everything that archaeologists preserve today through photogrammetry is a crucial investment in the knowledge of future generations. Especially as the means for anyone to use photogrammetry becomes more accessible, digital records like this will become extremely influential in the field of archaeology in the future.
- Sharaf Al-kheder, Yahya Al-shawabkeh, and Norbert Haala, “Developing a Documentation System for Desert Palaces in Jordan Using 3D Laser Scanning and Digital Photogrammetry,” Journal of Archaeological Science 36, no. 2 (February 1, 2009): 538, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2008.10.009.
- Nicoló Dell’Unto et al., “Experiencing Ancient Buildings from a 3D GIS Perspective: A Case Drawn from the Swedish Pompeii Project,” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23, no. 1 (2016): 86.
- Morag M. Kersel, “STORAGE WARS: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?,” Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies 3, no. 1 (2015): 45. https://doi.org/10.5325/jeasmedarcherstu.3.1.0042.
- Victoria Austen, “3D Modelling and Imaging for Classics and Cultural Heritage,” Class Lecture, Carleton College, Northfield, MN, October 26, 2023.