Digital Pottery Informatics

There is a wealth of data collected by archaeologists in the form of pottery artifacts, including sherds that provide only a partial view of the artifact. The Digital Pottery Informatics Project aims to systematize the collection and input of pottery into a ceramic database that would make these finds visible to researchers worldwide over the Internet. The system will integrate new methods for reconstructing 3D digital versions of the pottery, either through direct 3D scanning of the object, or through the application of algorithms for reconstructing 3D images based on scans of one or more sherds that appear to come from the same source object. CISA3 is also developing methods for extrapolating the 3D construction of pottery artifacts based on 2D photos of the pottery - a capability that could quickly make available 3D versions of thousands of objects in the archaeology record for which only 2D images are available.

In its initial format, the Digital Pottery Informatics Project is converting the Iron Age ceramic database of the southern Levant into a 3D format, which will allow the pottery data to be queried via the Digitial Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land (another CISA3 project). The majority of ceramic publications in the Iron Age Southern Levant are published as two-dimensional drawings in books and articles. Consequently, they lose key three-dimensional information on these vessels. By vectorizing published reports in ceramic databases, we are able to recover the 3D data. Once the vessels are vectorized, a unique mathematical algorithm can be extracted from the vessel so that it can be stored and classified by its 3D shape and curvature. This information can then be exported to any 3D rendering program.

This project is being spearhead by Neil G. Smith and Thomas Levy of CISA3 in collaboration with Avshalom Karasik and Uzy Smilansky of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.

CISA3's early work on this project also includes direct 3D scanning of pot sherds uncovered at various sites in Jordan and Israel, using a high-precision, 3D structured light FlexScan scanner. The scanner allows each nuance of the object to be recovered. Once the 3D scan of the object is retrieved, a mathematical computation can be run to determine the exact shape and stance of the vessel. The final result - either from 2D ceramic illustrations or 3D scans - is a digital 3D model that can be visually manipulated in three dimensions (including in 3D immersive environments) and also analyzed and compared with other vessels according to its mathematical curvature function. These exciting data will be accessible through Google Earth and other tools that permit them to be geo-located at the precise point where the pottery or sherds were recovered by the archaeologist.