CAA UK 2001 - Abstract

A Three-dimensional, Landscape Model of an Ancient Egyptian Tomb Site
Narushige Shiode and Wolfram Grajetzki
Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London
CASA, UCL, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT
{n.shiode; w.grajetzki}

One of the effective ways to promote and provide archaeological resources online is to address the limitation on exploring real artefacts by creating a virtual archaeological site equipped with 3D visualisation utility. This study explores the possibility of virtually reproducing a destroyed historic landscape from the excavation records and the remaining artefacts. Using VR technologies, we construct a series of low-end, 3D models in VRML format, which are navigable through the Web. This gives us the opportunity to visualise, explore and present ancient sites in their probable forms. Our primary aim is to virtually reproduce the historic site of Tarkhan, featuring the period of the foundation of Egyptian Dynasties and the findings from various excavations, as well as some VR reconstructions of the tomb agglomeration and the wider landscape.
Tarkhan is a vast cemetery region comprising over 2000 tombs, many of which date back to the time of state formation in Egypt (c. 3000BC). Situated in the desert on the edge of the cultivation about 80 km south of modern Cairo, it was excavated 1911-12 by W. M. Flinders Petrie. With the excavation reports Tarkhan is one of the best-documented sites of the Early Dynastic Period in Egypt. Besides many small and modest size burials, the cemetery also has some much larger and more elaborate palace facade tombs, a type imported from Mesopotamia and used for the highest elite burials of that time.
Today the site resembles a moonscape, and we thus have no clear picture of their actual design. Nevertheless, with the aid of VR technology, we are able to devise visualisations of different probable forms. We also benefit significantly by the fact that many extraordinary finds from the Tarkhan cemeteries, including one of the world oldest garments and many examples of early writing, are preserved at the Petrie Museum, University College London, and that we have hands-on access to these artefacts as well as the archaeological records by Petrie.
A few novel attempts have been recently made in the field of virtual preservation and reproduction of historical or heritage sites. However, most of these projects aim to reproduce an existing site or to construct a realistic model where the original plan is known. In this project, we propose a generic method for visualising the possible forms of a historic site whose form is uncertain, and which has to be estimated from the few remaining artefacts.
We adopt VRML97 as a primary means to visualise texture and create 3D models. This is complemented by other forms of online material such as movies and still images so as to allow low-end users to access the contents and to deliver it to a wider audience. As aforementioned, this study focuses on the single example of the Tarkhan site, but the methodology we develop is generic and it may also find use in many other historical and artistic contexts where visualisation of unknown structures is the goal.

* This study forms part of the "Digital Egypt for Universities" initiative, a three-year project to create online learning and teaching resource, carried out by Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London. The project is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee. The authors gratefully acknowledge contributions of Stephen Quirke, the Petrie Museum, University College London, to this project.

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