3D Archaeological Illustrations

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The Old Way vs. New 3D Technology

In the past when recreating images of artifacts from a few shards remaining, one ended up with line drawings like the one here. While there is nothing wrong with those drawings, and indeed they reproduce cheaply in print, new computer technologies give us new options. Compare these line drawings with the 3D images below (or move your mouse pointer over the line drawing image to the right to see a 3D image, if your browser is relatively current.)


Ft. Ancient Pottery
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Ft. Ancient Pot 1
Ft. Ancient Pot 3
Ft. Ancient Pottery in 3D
Recreating the Pottery in 3D

Using modern 3D computerized tools, we can build "virtual reality" models and illustrations like these renderings of a Ft. Ancient pot. The pot itself has long since been broken, but from shards found, we can measure curvatures and extend the curves using CAD/CAM tools to get an idea of what the pot might have looked like before it was broken. We can also take close-up photos of the decorative designs found on the shards and apply them to the virtual pot. The virtual pot is "almost an object" and we can view it from different angles, we can pick it up and put it on a different stand if we wish, and we can move our "virtual camera" to get a closer picture.

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Shadows of the Past

Virtual reality also lets us play with things like the position of the sun on a given day of a given year without having to actually invent time travel. The SunWatch Archaeological Park in Dayton, Ohio is a site where various central plaza poles cast shadows at various back sight locations on certain days, believed to mark certain important dates in agricultural societies, such as frost-free days, the solstices, etc. By positioning virtual light sources representing the appropriate sun position(s) in a rough virtual model of the actual site, we can test certain theories at any time.


Put your mouse over the picture to see the shadows move as the virtual sunrise position moves.

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3D Animation

If you wish to click here you will jump to the "virtual excavation" of this "virtual pot". Since the animation file is large and will take a few minutes to download to your browser's cache, I only recommend going to it if you want to see examples of what can be done on the web or in museum HTML interactive displays. Otherwise, the file might not be worth the download wait. [The animation is set to loop infinitely until you either use your browser's BACK button or press the "return link".]

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Susan K. Nelson has a Master of Arts degree in Archaeology Education from the McGregor School at Antioch University.