1. Introduction

This article is the fourth in a series for the LEAP II Project. As was the case with the previous three, this article will:

(a) use the existing infrastructure of the e-journal Internet Archaeology to provide [a] sustainable exemplar[s] of multi-layered e-publications and e-archives of broad interest to an international audience, and based upon projects hosted in North American institutions, and (b) develop an online mechanism, linked to the journal, which facilitates and encourages comment and debate.

A series of secondary objectives will:

Provide a novel and imaginative additional form of dissemination for a number of existing research projects based in North American institutions.
Raise the profile of electronic publication and digital archiving within the North American scholarly community.
Further investigate the ways in which e-publications can be interactive, multi-layered and underpinned by supporting data, in a range of formats — databases, GIS, VR, digital audio and video etc.
Explore questions of linking between distributed archives and publications, potentially linking the papers in Internet Archaeology with North American repositories.
Build upon the experience and best practice developed as part of the LEAP project. (Internet Archaeology 2010)

This article addresses these objectives through a discussion of the application of high-precision 3-D recording methods to heritage materials (portable objects), the technical processes involved, the various digital products and the role of 3-D recording in larger questions of scholarship and public interpretation. As a key element of this LEAP II project the digital objects from the research project efforts will be placed in digital repositories in the US and in Britain. In the US the Digital Antiquity Project's tDAR archive located at Arizona State University will be used and in Britain the project will utilise the Archaeology Data Service located at the University of York.

The 3-D recording of both structures and objects is a research area of considerable scholarly and public interest (Andreetto et al. 2004; Callieri et al. 2006; Forte and Pietroni 2009; Georgiadis et al. 2009; Remondino 2009; Kampel and Sablatnig 2006; Meyer 2007; Pop and Bucksch 2007; ter Haar et al. 2005). As is normal in the discovery and application of new approaches, the initial publication focus has been largely on how the methods work, their strengths and weaknesses and reporting on projects that have served as demonstrations of the approach. More recently there has been an increasing interest in the implications, strategies and consequences of the use of 3-D digital representation of the past (Cameron and Kenderdine 2007; Kalay 2008).

The long-term value of these methods will be accomplished most effectively when the approaches to the acquisition and creation of digital representations of heritage are part of a comprehensive research infrastructure that focuses on all of the elements involved. The complete research infrastructure includes attention to questions of:

  1. recording methods and metadata
  2. digital object discovery and access
  3. citation of digital objects
  4. analysis and study
  5. digital object reuse and repurposing, and
  6. the critical role of a national/international digital archive

To emphasise the interconnectedness of these elements and the need to consider them fully as a whole we have used the analogy of an ecosystem (Blew 1996) — a digital ecosystem. Just as all the actors in a natural ecosystem interact to produce health or disease the elements of a digital ecosystem interact to produce a sustainable, usable digital representation (Corallo 2007). Each of these elements of the digital 3-D heritage ecosystem is critical. It is only when all the aspects are considered together that we can substantively move forward and apply these new techniques to expand our understanding of the past. Methods considered in isolation provide interesting technical challenges but technology must be harnessed to addressing substantive questions. Conversely archival systems without an apparatus for discovery and scholarly use are effectively sterile digital warehousing. But when all of these elements are considered as part of a robust system the synergistic energies that link them together are released and all elements become more valuable. The ecosystem serves as a useful analogue to highlight the relatedness and synergies. Another perspective is the idea of a digital lifecycle, an approach that we have also proposed (cf. Limp et al. 2010).

We illustrate these elements and their relationship using two case studies that involve similar approaches to the high-precision 3-D digital recording of portable archaeological objects, largely ceramic vessels, but including some stone and shell objects, from a number of late pre-Columbian villages and towns in the mid-central US (c. 1400 CE) and wooden, stone and ceramic materials from the Egyptian site of Amarna, the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten's capital (c. 1300 BCE).

We should emphasise that the objectives of these two efforts were multiple but, in brief, we had both scholarly and public interpretation goals. We wrapped these objectives into the larger concept of a virtual museum which we would see as "...a logically related collection of digital objects composed in a variety of media which, because of its capacity to provide connectedness and various points of access, lends itself to transcending traditional methods of communicating and interacting with visitors... it has no real place or space, its objects and the related information can be disseminated all over the world' (Andrews and Schweibenz 1998; see also Schweibenz 2002; Schweibenz 2004).

From a scholarly perspective we hoped to increase the access to the collections and, in particular, to create sufficiently authentic and detailed digital representations for use as digital surrogates for most common analyses (metric and other) that are likely to be performed on the actual physical object (cf. Orton et al. 1993; Rice 1987; Shepard 1965; Sinopoli 1991) except, of course, questions of physical and chemical composition. We would hope that the data would also support emerging, computationally-based analytical methods in additional to the traditional ones (cf. Gilboa et al. 2004; Karasik and Smilansky 2008). Thus if a likely objective might be a measurement of the depth of a incised line (for example), the project's technical objective was that such a measurement could be performed on the digital version that would yield results consistent with measurements on the actual object. There are obvious limits to this objective that are based on the technical properties of the scanners used as well as the effects of the processing workflow.

From a public interpretation perspective the objective was to produce compelling representations that could be easily accessed and investigated such that public interest in the materials would be expanded and that a larger population of 'consumers' would be made aware and could gain access to the collections. To advance that goal we presented the objects as of individual interest but developed other material (images and text) that placed the isolated object in a larger context.

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