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4.5 Ideals of archaeological documentation

Figure 9: (VIDEO) Different data representations. The mainstream raster and vector representations are being supplemented by new types of primary data such as point clouds and derived 3D meshes on one side, and voxel representation on the other. Illustration based on data from the Alken Enge excavation (Holst et al. in press)

From the point of having created our primary spatial documentation, using any of the technologies above, we arrive at the challenges of integrating it alongside our textual classification data. Common to the data produced by these technologies is the very derivative and generalised nature. As illustrated above, an increasing array of digital recording frameworks exist, which support different levels of spatial integration (Figure 9). One aspect is, however, apparent in all these solutions: that methodological traditions and technological advances are not easily combined. One key aspect, which is commonly only addressed to some extent, is the revision of what the ideal of archaeological documentation is, and what the actual end-product of our archaeological excavation is supposed to be. Take for instance SFM-generated, highly detailed 3D models with perhaps millions of vertices and high resolution textures, which are often essentially reduced to rectified orthophotos for vectorisation, as equivalent to a drawing, effectively disregarding the high level of spatial and geometric information inherent in a 3D point cloud or mesh. We choose to reduce data to something we know how to handle. The data representation in 3D documentation is so vastly different and complex that it is currently next to impossible to compare to older excavation data, if not somehow transformed into something that is 'backwards compatible'. It is difficult to justify only looking ahead and focusing on new technologies without taking proper care to bring the past documentation up to speed. This is not just because archaeology, by definition, is focused on the past. Already many resources have gone into digitising and vectorising old excavation documentation, and the prospect of having to do it over to bring it up to a comparable standard with 3D documentation - if at all possible - may appear as a futile attempt at keeping archaic spatial data alive, again and again.

The fact is that spatial data that is born digital tends to be very derivative. It is shaped by a series of generalisations brought on by new methods and post-processing techniques, which produce a primary source material based on calculations and estimations we have very little knowledge about. A paradox, which relates to a profound lack of metadata and particularly paradata associated with the creation of our digital spatial data.


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