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Introduction and Intended Learning Outcomes

This teaching resource will introduce students to key considerations, issues, and current scholarship surrounding the creation of digital reconstructions of archaeological sites. In an increasingly digital world, the ability to critically interrogate and explore the research applications of the reconstructive process have become useful skillsets to employ in understanding archaeological sites. Exercises will reuse an archaeological dataset archived by SPARC from the site of Malthi, a Bronze Age settlement in northern Messenia, Greece, as a case study. This teaching resource will act as an example of good practice in leveraging archival data for new purposes and generating new value and understanding from site-level laser scan data.

The site of Malthi was originally excavated by Natan Valmin between 1926-1935, the results of which were published in 1938. It is being reinvestigated by Dr Rebecca Worsham of Smith College and Dr Michael Lindblom of Uppsala University because advancements in archaeological knowledge have suggested that many of Valmin’s interpretations related to the phasing and dating of the site are inaccurate, as was his original plan of the site. The laser scan dataset that is featured in this teaching resource was primarily generated to redress the errors in Valmin’s site plan and to better understand the spatial layout of the site. You can learn more about the Malthi Revisited Project here.

Intended Learning Outcomes:

By completing this teaching resource, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate an understanding of the range of decisions that need to be addressed before beginning a digital archaeological reconstruction;

- Demonstrate the ability to employ specialised software/tools in the production of a digital archaeological reconstruction;

- Become familiar with a variety of design tools methods for effective collaboration in teams of digital practitioners and domain experts to create more informative reconstructions;

- Discuss the research insights that can be obtained from the process of reconstruction;

- Communicate the results of their reconstruction in a way that addresses their chosen purpose and audience effectively;

- Critically evaluate the necessary level of paradata (data about your workflow and practices) to record the process of digital reconstruction to accompany the newly archived reconstruction.

The first exercise will highlight the decisions that need to be made before beginning a reconstruction, including the identification of an audience and purpose (aims) for the reconstruction, how to evaluate the quality and character of the digital data source available, how to decide what level of detail/accuracy is required, and how to prepare laser scan data as a meshed foundation for a reconstruction.

In the second exercise, the importance of collaboration with the original creators of the dataset will be emphasised by including a short interview with one of the Malthi excavation’s principal investigators, Dr Rebecca Worsham of Smith College. Key decisions about the design of the construction will be discussed, including style and completeness, and which resources and comparanda should be incorporated. It will conclude with a discussion of how to assess the range of software packages best suited to create the archaeological reconstruction and how to determine whether the software meets the needs of the project, including style and completeness, choosing which resources to incorporate, and how to choose a software package(s) that will best suit the requirements of the project.

The third and fourth exercises will provide students with the technical skills and tools needed to undertake a reconstruction. This will focus on preparing the meshed 3D datasets produced in Exercise 1 for use as a foundation for the reconstruction; these will discuss workflows for meshing, decimation, normal mapping, and 3D modelling. While there are existing tutorials and resources available online to develop these skills, this teaching resource will outline the challenges unique to working with reality-captured data in these software packages.

The fifth exercise will present a variety of options for making the reconstruction publicly available, with particular focus on Sketchfab and Unity. This will again consider what is optimal for the intended audience and purpose of the reconstruction. Particular emphasis will be made the available ways to allow for different levels of audience interaction with the reconstruction.

Additional resources will discuss what is necessary for including in the reconstruction project’s archive. The importance of paradata, metadata, and archive-friendly file formats will be emphasised. A basic troubleshooting guide is provided, which highlights common issues that students may encounter during the exercise.

To Exercise 1 Part A