The need for the solid modelling of structure in the archaeology of buildings

Robert Daniels

Formerly: Department of Archaeology University of Reading, Whiteknights, P O Box 218, Reading, RG6 2AA, ENGLAND.

Cite this as: Daniels, R. 1997 The need for the solid modelling of structure in the archaeology of buildings, Internet Archaeology 2.


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Three-dimensional modelling is an attempt to represent the world in three dimensions, simplifying through deliberate assumptions. In archaeology, this has developed as an extension of the traditional use of three-dimensional drawings to help present and record data. The debate in the archaeological literature over whether surface or solid modellers should be used is one based on the premise that the purpose of three-dimensional modelling is data visualisation. This concentration on perception modelling has been at the expense of research on the modelling of structure.

Surface and Solid Modellers are introduced and defined. I argue that developments in modelling software mean that there is no longer a clear distinction between the two types of software along application lines. We should think of models in terms of their applications rather than the software which generates them.

Although data visualisation (including virtual reality) is an important part of three-dimensional modelling, I argue that it should be explicitly divorced from the related field of photo-realism at a research level. Perception modelling can be performed by surface or solid modellers.

Modelling structure is better performed with a solid modeller, if we wish to be as explicit as possible in our modelling. A structural model can be used as a spatial database. If we wish to ask questions about the physical properties of a structure, then we must use solid modellers. In addition to the engineering properties of structures, solid modellers can also be used to answer questions about the economics of construction. For historical reasons, the construction industry has preferred to use surface modellers, but I argue for the advantages of solid modelling in the archaeological study of construction.

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