1. Introduction

O lares compitales
gods of the boundaries
guarding the limits of fields
reveal to me how I can open
a house unlocked for ages

Vladimir Janovic 'The House of the Tragic Poet' 1988

Although speculative reconstruction of archaeological sites has a long history, the use of computer-generated 3-D models is a comparatively new way to produce and communicate these interpretations. Whether used to create 2-D images, navigable 3-D models or uninteractive animations, 3-D modelling is a small but growing area in assisting the formation and communication of archaeological hypotheses. The results range from schematic, untextured models to convincing, almost photorealistic, images.

In producing computer-generated 3-D models for the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii (AAPP) to aid their research in Insula VI, i, in Pompeii, I have been faced with a series of choices regarding the production of these models. The models have been put to a variety of uses and for each use I have had to decide which elements to include and which elements to ignore, and how much detail to include in each model. Using the House of the Surgeon in Pompeii as a case study, I aim to illustrate that 3-D modelling is more effective when detail levels are assessed on a case by case basis, that they depend on their intended audience and that this approach necessitates the use of multiple models.

Three main uses of 3-D modelling were pursued in the House of the Surgeon, each for a different audience and each requiring different levels of detail.

By comparing the results of these three approaches I hope to show that the most appropriate levels of detail for each use vary and illustrate the ways in which computer-based modelling technology can help communicate the history of the House of the Surgeon.

Although there are more uses for modelling in archaeology, this article deals solely with using modelling in speculative reconstruction. Speculative reconstruction involves modelling elements that no longer exist in situ but possibly were present in antiquity, evidence being taken from archaeological excavation, written records, comparison with similar properties and even other models. In speculative reconstruction, each model is an interpretation of the evidence available, 'a set of concepts, laws, tested hypotheses and hypotheses waiting for testing' (Barceló 2002, 27). Images and animations produced from a model are intended to illustrate these interpretations. The flexibility of computer modelling means that it's easy to show images from different models side by side, hopefully illustrating differences between them more easily than by using text alone. Choosing the levels of detail in each model affects the effectiveness of the final image or animation. More detail can create a more convincing end result but takes more time and can obscure the point being illustrated. Anything other than completely photorealistic modelling results in an abstracted image that omits certain elements. The decision on which elements should be included or omitted will impact the impression made on the viewer.


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Last updated: Tues Feb 5 2008