NSF awards Brown researchers $2.6 million for computer vision in archaeology

December 03, 2008

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- A Brown University archaeologist and team of engineers have been awarded $2.6 million from the National Science Foundation to use computer vision and pattern recognition in an archaeological excavation. The team is setting out to change the way archaeologists conduct fieldwork by developing innovative techniques for excavation, reconstruction, and interpretation during the next four years.

The work will focus on the site of Apollonia-Arsuf, located on the Mediterranean coast in Israel. The site has been under archaeological excavation and conservation since the 1950s and was formally recognized in 2004 as one of the 100 most endangered world monuments by the World Monuments Fund.

The team's main goal is to develop a visual archaeological database (VAD), which will transform the current slow and tedious documentation process of an excavation. Video cameras and digital scanning stations will be installed around the site to maintain a continuous visual recording of excavation activity. Excavators will also be able to immediately process artifacts by inputting text, video, still images, dense-data 3-D laser scans, and spatial position coordinate information into the database. The VAD will allow for immediate and efficient access, search, and image and 3-D scene reconstruction of the collected data.

Archaeologist Katharina Galor, one of the principal investigators, says her field's current protocol -- relying on written field notes -- is an outdated system. "We use written words to describe our findings when we should be using images and video to make the documentation process more efficient, accurate, and accessible to others," she said. "The more precisely we can physically reproduce what is left, and the more accurately we can piece together broken and dispersed pieces, the greater our chances of reconstructing and understanding the past truthfully."

The other significant goals of this project involve using computer vision and pattern recognition to reconstruct the Crusader Castle and archaeological artifacts from Hellenistic through medieval period remains. The castle, which collapsed in the 13th century and is more than 80 percent ruined, is located on the shore of the modern town of Herzliya. Enormous architectural fragments have fallen to the beach below, into the moat, and under ocean water, making it difficult to obtain precise measurements and other information from the pieces. Using 3-D laser scanners, multiple still and/or video images, and geometry-based methods, the scientists will be able to analyze the architectural fragments, then view and manipulate the elements, and virtually rebuild the castle. The geometry-based methods will also be used to reconstruct pottery, glass vessels, statues, or other decorative blocks from the site. The team plans to develop an interactive archaeology visualization environment which will enable users to use a "walkthrough mode" to explore virtual excavation trenches and the excavation process.

The team states, "These tools will allow unprecedented access to and analysis of past human activity, with geometry providing the capability to recognize, visualize, and evaluate forms of material culture accurately, rapidly and (above all), non-destructively." Reaching beyond archaeology, the developments in algorithms and software will be applicable to homeland security, medical imaging, remote collaboration, education, entertainment, and in the areas of geometric learning, 2-D and 3-D shape theory, and database design.
-end-
The research team includes David Cooper, professor of engineering; Katharina Galor, adjunct professor in the program in Judaic studies; Benjamin Kimia, professor of engineering; and Gabriel Taubin, associate professor of engineering, along with colleagues from the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, University of North Carolina, and the Institute for Visualization of History. The group will also collaborate with the digital humanities group of the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown.

On the partnership between archaeology and engineering, Cooper said, "We come from completely different worlds and speak different languages, but we have the same goal: to extract information and gather validated information that is easy to use."

For more information about the excavation site, visit www.brown.edu/apollonia.

Brown University

Related Archaeology Articles from Brightsurf:

Archaeology uncovers infectious disease spread - 4000 years ago
New bioarchaeology research from a University of Otago PhD candidate has shown how infectious diseases may have spread 4000 years ago, while highlighting the dangers of letting such diseases run rife.

Aboriginal artifacts reveal first ancient underwater cultural sites in Australia
The first underwater Aboriginal archaeological sites have been discovered off northwest Australia dating back thousands of years ago when the current seabed was dry land.

7,000 years of demographic history in France
A team led by scientists from the Institut Jacques Monod (CNRS/Université de Paris)1 have shown that French prehistory was punctuated by two waves of migration: the first during the Neolithic period, about 6,300 years ago, the second during the Bronze Age, about 4,200 years ago.

Researchers trace evolution of self-control
Advances in the craftsmanship of stone hand axes around 500,000 years ago suggest individuals at this time possessed characteristics which demonstrate significant self-control, such as concentration and frustration tolerance.

Big data could yield big discoveries in archaeology, Brown scholar says
Parker VanValkenburgh, an assistant professor of anthropology, curated a journal issue that explores the opportunities and challenges big data could bring to the field of archaeology.

Team creates game-based virtual archaeology field school
Before they can get started at their field site - a giant cave studded with stalactites, stalagmites and human artifacts -- 15 undergraduate students must figure out how to use their virtual hands and tools.

Smaller detection device effective for nuclear treaty verification, archaeology digs
Most nuclear data measurements are performed at accelerators large enough to occupy a geologic formation a kilometer wide.

Archaeology -- Social inequality in Bronze Age households
Archaeogenetic analyses provide new insights into social inequality 4,000 years ago: nuclear families lived together with foreign women and individuals from lower social classes in the same household.

Traditional fisherfolk help uncover ancient fish preservation methods
Archaeologists have little insight into the methods used for the long-term processing and preservation of fish in the past.

Crowdsourced archaeology shows how humans have influenced Earth for thousands of years
A new map synthesized from more than 250 archaeologists worldwide argues that the human imprint on our planet's soil goes back much earlier than the nuclear age.

Read More: Archaeology News and Archaeology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.