Full text: Close-range imaging, long-range vision

Paul F. Jacobs 
Cobb Institute of Archaeology, Mississippi State University, MS 39762 USA 
pfil @ra.msstate.edu 
KEY WORDS: Archaeology, Archiving, Databases, History, Measurement, Photogrammetry, Publication 
In archaeology the creation of a usable database is of paramount importance to the discipline in light developments in 
information technology, for several reasons. First, because excavated materials remain the properties of the host 
country in which they were found, the artifacts tend to become inaccessible except by visiting the storage facilities of 
the archaeological authorities,. Second, since final printed reports frequently eliminate the majority of items for 
publication, it is essential that excavation projects prepare accessible databases with complete reporting of artifacts and 
data. Such databases--now possible to publish using digital technology-- provide the means for scholars to perform 
detailed analysis via the digital presentations of all found artifacts, including color, manufacture technique, ware 
analysis, and measurements, thus permitting comparison to other collections and even reinterpretation by other scholars 
of the full data set. In this poster session the 817 ceramic figurines found in excavation at Tell Halif, Israel, will 
demonstrate techniques of digital photography, VR presentations, and photogrammetry that permit detailed analysis of 
artifacts through digital manipulation. 
A chief task of archaeology is the interpretation (not 
simply recovery) of human artifact remains, most of 
which by their nature are mute symbols of systems of 
values as well as of worlds of mundane concerns. The 
exercise of that task—because there are seldom verbal 
guides or visual depictions to point us to meaning or 
function—relies heavily on inference derived from 
close observation of the artifact collection in its milieu 
and from observation of bodies of contemporary 
artifacts from other excavations, in order to gain 
detailed comparisons from as many similar contexts 
and collections as possible. Simply put, to understand 
what has been uncovered from the soil requires 
comparison to what others have recovered, an 
essential ingredient in the processes of interpretation. 
Indeed, rather precise, detailed data (measurements, 
composition, color, style, manufacture, provenience, 
ware, etc.) derived from artifact remains are critical to 
successful interpretation. Older presentations of 
artifact collections which report little more than 
quantities of artifacts simply do not meet that purpose. 
Archaeologists have realized this condition of the 
discipline probably since the beginnings of systematic 
recovery of the past from the soil: needed are detailed 
data to manipulate, whole bodies of comparative 
materials to review, in order to assign significance to 
their own collections. Direct, physical access to these 
assemblages of artifacts is optimum, though ordinarily 
inconvenient at best. In the case of the Lahav 
Research Project ceramic figurines, direct access has been 
limited to in-country (Israel) use, a situation that involves 
significant travel expense. (The Lahav Research Project 
has resorted, then, to the creation of complete databases to 
aid researchers while away from the primary collection 
itself.) Access to comparative collections is also often 
refused by excavators, even though “final publication” has 
been completed. These limitations make comparative 
collections—sometimes even the primary collection of the 
Lahav Research Project—essentially inaccessible. A 
universally available digital database of artifact collections, 
like the Lahav Research Project figurine database, promises 
better to meet the needs of interpretation. 
Fortunately, the availability of digital recording and 
reporting devices has stirred archaeology to explore the 
potentials of recording (a) in detail (b) all of the artifacts in 
a set—in contrast to publishing the few representative 
samples afforded by traditional media (journals and books). 
An example of the potential of “total publication” is the 
work by the Lahav Research Project (Phase III) in the 
treatment of ceramic and stone figurines recovered in 
excavation at Tell Halif; author Jacobs has prepared for 
publication all 817 in combinations of multiple 
photographs, line-drawings, and VR movies. Digital 
publication features not only the finest and rare artifacts, 
but all examples from the whole to the non-identifiable 
fragment. The Tell Halif figurines—viewed as a database 
for comparison with other collections—does not skew the 
data in favor of the aesthetically pleasing or the unique, 
since all samples are present to the user. (In contrast, 
traditional publication requires extreme limitations on the 
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