Ancient site more accessible with 3D imaging at UC Merced

December 7, 2010 

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK A reproduction of an archeological find sits in a Next Engine optical scanner at the UC Merced archeology exhibit in Merced, Calif. Mon. Dec. 6, 2010. The scanner is great for scanning small artifacts with extremely high levels of resolution, according to an exhibit sign.

BEA AHBECK — Merced Sun-Star

Ever seen a Middle Eastern stone statue of a deity?

The public and UC Merced students can check out archaeological artifacts from Turkish ruins on display at the school's library, thanks to the use of virtual models, 3D stereo pictures, digital videos, multimedia data and 3D prints of artifacts.

The exhibit, "3D Archaeology at Çatalhöyük," spans two floors at the UC Merced Kolligian Library. It combines video, images, replicas of artifacts and 3D images to showcase the school's first archaeological field work expedition.

According to Carlos Bazua, a UC Merced graduate student in world cultures, the expedition put UC Merced on the map in the archaeology world.

The exhibit was the result of a summer research trip to Çatalhöyük, the world's largest and best-preserved Neolithic village, led by UC Merced World Heritage professor Maurizio Forte and accompanied by eight UC Merced students.

Çatalhöyük dates to about 7,500 B.C.

"The site is unique because it's one of the first sites showing the first evidence of the agriculture revolution," Forte said.

Justine Issavi, a UC Merced graduate student in world cultures who went to Çatalhöyük, said the site was built when people were transitioning from a nomadic hunter and gatherer lifestyle to one that was sedentary and depended more on agriculture.

Forte said Çatalhöyük is an important site for the rituals performed there, the iconography of wall paintings and the mythology.

Students spent the summer working in labs and digging at the site. Their research involved the use of laser scanners to record and reconstruct the excavation area.

The amount of technology students brought was unheard of, said Issavi -- $500,000 worth, including three laser scanners and three additional scanners for smaller artifacts, she said.

The purpose of capturing all the data and images is preservation of the site, Forte said.

"Archaeology has to destroy what we investigate," Forte said. "When we dig, we remove."

Julia Cline, a UC Merced anthropology major and one of the researchers, said she scanned artifacts and created 3D prints of them. The prints were used to create replicas of the artifacts, which are in glass cases inside the library.

"For scholars and students who aren't at the site, if you can send them the scans, then anyone not at the site can get really finely detailed 3D artifacts," she said. "For pottery, it's going to be a growing field. Because before you only have drawings and photographs, but this is a more efficient way of keeping those in a record."

As part of the exhibit, Bazua produced several short films documenting the excavation. The videos are being shown in the library. He said he hopes to create a single movie about the experience.

This is an effective way to share information with other scholars, Bazua said. Academics don't always like to share information, but the moment that information is available on a website, it allows any archaeologist to access the information.

"The whole idea of digitally reconstructing these sites is so the public can see these reconstructions," he said.

The exhibition is on display until Dec. 17.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

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