University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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3D Documentation in Archaeology: Recording Las Cuevas Site, Chiquibul Reserve, Belize
Fabrizio Galeazzi, Holley Moyes

Last modified: 2012-01-28


This research aims to define new methodologies for the 3D documentation and preservation of archaeological sites. 3D archaeological surveys are becoming more common in archaeology, but this can become problematic because researchers have yet to integrate these technologies to develop a complete and coherent methodology for their use. In this paper we will show one approach to document completely aspects of an archeological site using different 3D survey technologies and find the most appropriate methods, based on diverse environmental conditions and light exposures, and with varied surfaces.

The new methodology will be tested in the Las Cuevas site, located at the Las Cuevas Research Station in the Chiquibul Reserve in western Belize. This site, originally referred to as “Awe Caves,” is a medium-sized Maya ceremonial center located approximately 14 km east of Caracol. It is of particular interest because a large cave with an extensive dark zone tunnel system resides directly beneath the largest temple in the site core. This archaeological site is a perfect case study to test the different 3D documentation techniques and to integrate them in a precise working plan. The most interesting aspect of this site, for the 3D documentation, is the heterogeneity in its parts. It consists of a number of buildings including temples, range structures, a ballcourt, and what appear to be sacbes (or causeways). These characteristics represent a perfect test for the understanding of which 3D survey technologies are more appropriate for each structure category and how they can be integrated. Because of the complexity of the site, it has a wide range of environmental conditions  dark recesses of caves, areas in shaded sunlight under the jungle canopy, and areas of more direct sunlight in areas that have been cleared of brush or exposed by treefall. Thus, there are structures, variability in lighting, and other kinds of features in close proximity.

We will present the results of the Summer 2011 fieldwork campaign. A test was conducted on two areas of the cave. Two units were excavated inside the cave, one in the entrance area, another inside the second chamber of the cave. The entire excavation process (9 levels in the entrance area and 8 levels in the second chamber) was surveyed using two different approaches: triangulation laser scanner (Minolta Vivid 910) and photogrammetry.

The test demonstrated the reliability of the laser scanner technique in terms of accuracy in the cave environment. This kind of technology allowed the high resolution data capture of the excavation process in 3D. The final result was the 3D models of the units’ levels (meshes and textures applied). We will present also the preliminary results coming from the comparison between laser scanner and photogrammetry to determine if it is possible to plan the 3D documentation of an archaeological site using the cheaper and more portable photogrammetric approach instead of the more expensive laser scanner technology, and if photogrammetry can give the same result of the laser scanner in term of level of detail.



3D documentation; 3D virtual dig; digital archaeology; integrated technologies; laser scanner