3D Gabii: (Re)excavating the Past

BY MATT NAGLAK, PhD student, U-M Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology

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3D image of an excavated wall

One of the major problems of excavation is its innately destructive nature. Once a layer of dirt is excavated or a stone is removed, it cannot be put back. It is therefore vitally important to obtain all the information possible not only about the layer itself but also its relationship to all the layers around it. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for an archaeologist to know in advance what information is going to be needed to understand the site as a whole. Often no one realizes that significant information has been lost until the excavation is finished and analysis has begun.

In the past, the only way to combat this problem was to take photographs and detailed notes. The Kelsey and IPCAA projects at Gabii and Sant’Omobono, Italy, however, are using new technology to create 3D photomodels of layers that will in a sense let us “reexcavate” the site after the actual digging is finished, recovering valuable data and relationships otherwise lost. One of my jobs on the site of Gabii is to take pictures and then create the 3D models for each of the trenches. Then we are able to look again at the surface of a layer in all its detail, almost as if it had never been removed in the first place. With the click of a mouse we can excavate a trench again or reinsert earlier layers, moving in either direction through time in a way never before possible. This ability has proven invaluable to how we understand the results of excavation and is sure to be a staple of future archaeological work. I am very excited to return to Gabii this summer to continue this innovative work!

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