Modeling Archaeology

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In recent years, 3D modeling has become easier than it ever has been before. In the past, we had to use an expensive 3D scanner, though these still have their uses. Now, however, anybody with a smartphone can make a reasonable 3D model using a program called 123D Catch. With a little more time and financial investment, we can make a model that is accurate enough to draw data from (

This magical process is called “photogrammetry.” Essentially, this uses a collection of photographs from a variety of angles to create a three dimensional model of an object. What has really changed in recent years is the ease of use. Even with the professional version of Agisoft PhotoScan (a more robust, paid version of 123D Catch) the process of going from photos to a three dimensional model takes only a few steps.

There are a few limitations to this technique, however. Tall objects (such as buildings) are difficult to fully cover due to their height and size (without some creativity or a drone anyways) and the program has difficulty dealing with patterns such as plaid or other subjects that are not distinct enough, like grass. The biggest restriction is in the program’s inability to deal with movement, so live subjects are nearly impossible to record without a large and expensive rig of cameras to take all the pictures in a single instant. Fortunately, most of our subjects in archaeology are not very lively, so this is a fairly minor restriction.

The uses for such a program in archaeology are incredibly exciting, especially for underwater archaeology. Due to limitations on dives caused by weather and human endurance, it can easily take a decade to fully map a complex shipwreck. However, with five days of photographing and a few hours of processing time archaeologists can now have a highly detailed and accurate three dimensional map (

CW monumentPreservation is another excellent use for photogrammetry. If an historic building is about to be demolished, a day or two photographing every possible inch inside and out can result in detailed models for the building. Alternatively, if the current political climate (hypothetically) expanded from the removal of a statue in D.C. (link) to the removal of other Civil War monuments, we have a method of preserving these monuments in a more detailed form than photographs (

While the effect this method will have on archaeological research is impressive, imagining how it will contribute to public outreach is what I find particularly exciting. So often a site or artifact cannot be used in public outreach beyond a photograph and our enthusiastic descriptions. Three dimensional models (like this one) does more than allow someone to see it from all sides, it adds depth and texture to the image, immediately making it feel more real. Alternatively, digital site tours ( become relatively simple to make, and accessible to anyone in the world. If we pair these models with 3D printers, then there is almost no limit to what we could do.

A special thanks to Kotaro Yamafune for getting everybody I know excited about the potential uses for photogrammetry in archaeology.

Attention Scuba Divers! FPAN to Host Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar in Pensacola this September

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This three day seminar will be offered in Pensacola on September 11 – 14, with a welcome meet-n-greet the evening of September 11th. The Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar is intended to explain the advantages of conserving shipwrecks and other submerged cultural resources, not only to preserve information about our collective past, but also to preserve the vibrant ecosystems that grow around shipwrecks. HADS focuses on providing scuba training agency Course Directors, Instructor Trainers, and Instructors with a greater knowledge of how to proactively protect shipwrecks, artificial reefs, and other underwater cultural sites as part of the marine environment. HADS consists of two evenings of classroom instruction and one day of open water diving; participants receive the HADS workbook and a CD with all PowerPoint presentations to use in their own classes. Upon completion of HADS, participants can teach the new Heritage Awareness Specialty Course, approved by PADI, NAUI, and SSI, as well as incorporate underwater historic preservation into other courses. This program is presented by both the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and is taught by professional underwater archaeologists with a wealth of knowledge and experience. If you are interested in registering or have questions you can contact Jeff Moates of the Florida Public Archaeology Network before August 15th at or 813.396.2327. You may also register online on the FPAN website.


The Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail: Florida’s Newest Underwater Cultural Attraction!

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Hey all you SCUBA divers out there in cyber land! Florida’s Panhandle has a new attraction for your underwater enjoyment! This month the Florida Bureau of Archaeological

YDT-4, one of the wrecks featured on the trail. This is one of two U.S. Navy diving tenders sunk as artificial reefs in 2002 off the coast of Pensacola.

Research, Division of Historical Resources and their many partners have launched the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail. This underwater trail includes twelve shipwrecks off the coast of the panhandle from Pensacola to Port St. Joe. Each of these wrecks has a different, interesting story to tell and is home to a wide variety of marine life. The trail includes fascinating dive sites, such as the USS Oriskany, which is the world’s largest artificial reef, and the FAMI Tugboats, with one piggy-backed atop the other! The twelve wrecks are located in varying depths, and you can start the trail on any wreck and go in any order you would like. The official website, provides divers with all the information they need to plan their trip. It gives details about the site itself, the current weather conditions and much more. While there you can even get a glimpse of the site by watching video clips of each site! To help guide visitors along the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, an official passport is available at participating dive shops and charter boats. You can find the location of all participating dive shops and charter boats on the website as well.  The passport contains a dive log to record each stop along the trail and includes a place to validate your visit with an official sticker and signature! This makes a great souvenir of your underwater adventure along the coast of the Florida Panhandle.

You can pick up your own passport to commemorate your dives at any of the participating dive shops or charter boats!

You can also join the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail’s Facebook page to share photos and stories of your visits to the various dive sites!

Of course, we want to ensure that these sites remain in pristine condition so that the marine life and other divers can continue to enjoy these beautiful resources. The Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail aims to promote underwater cultural heritage tourism and stewardship. It focuses on responsible diving and local stewardship to ensure that these resources will be sustainable and that we can all continue to enjoy them for years to come. Remember, take only pictures and leave only bubbles! So strap on your fins and suit up! The water is beautiful, so dive on in to your next underwater adventure along Florida’s Panhandle!