Sandcastles for Science: Laser Scanning Meets the Beach

The Summer of 2012 was filled by a project which has come to be known as Sandcastles for Science. Its formal, overly lengthy and ridiculously erudite name is

Sediment Intervals & Site De-Formation Processes: Exploring Time Lapse Laser Scanning Capabilities & Methodologies for Archaeology.

Its purposes were multi-fold and illuminated more clearly in this powerpoint outlining the project and its goals. In a nutshell, the project was to evaluate the potential to use terrestrial LiDAR to rapidly capture high resolution detailed sedimentology like that encountered in the stratigraphy of archaeological excavations. The project also evaluated the potential for time lapse scanning of a single site- resulting ultimately in both the development of time-lapse point cloud software techniques by my CISA3 colleague David Srour and our joint publication: “Temporal Terrestrial Laser Scanning to Visualize the Archaeological Process” (additional co-authors: Thomas E. Levy and Falko Kuester) which was presented at the 2013 Digital Heritage International Congress in Marseilles, France (see subsequent blog) and subsequently published.

Ashley M. Richter with the Leica Scanstation 2 at the final Sandcastles for Summer outreach event.

Ashley M. Richter with the Leica Scanstation 2 at the final Sandcastles for Summer outreach event.

Abstract for the paper:

Archaeology is a destructive science. Photographs and videos preserve some aspects of the sequence of events inherent within the archaeological excavation process, but cannot replicate the spatiality and detail of the downward progression of the digging entailed through excavation. Time lapse sequences of properly adapted and employed terrestrial laser scanning to create a temporal sequence of point clouds of the archaeological methodologies can, however, serve as an innovative step towards accurate documentation of crucial data for future archaeologists interested in the site. Over the course of the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship funded Sediment Intervals and Site Deformation Processes: Exploring Time Lapse Laser Scanning Capabilities and Methodologies for Archaeology, temporal scanning was tested on the beaches of San Diego to establish a baseline capability for data capture. Subsequently, the methodologies for data collection were utilized as a part of the excavation workflow at the University of California, San Diego’s Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeological Project’s excavation of a Roman era section of tell Khirbat Faynan in southern Jordan. With the data collected from the excavation as the impetus for new system development, original visualization processing designed with the archaeological problems and end-goals in mind is being created at the University of California, San Diego Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology in order to meaningful display the shifting data sets in real time and exhibit not just the archaeological data, but the archaeological process.

Engaging kids and adults alike in the joys of science and archaeology.

Engaging kids and adults alike in the joys of science and archaeology.

In addition to the academic research and development goals, Sandcastles for Science was also an opportunity to directly engage the local San Diego community in our scientific work. The topics touched on by the project, i.e. laser scanning and archaeology, provided a jumping off point to immerse people in a myriad of additional massively awesome science topics like beach ecology, the physics of sand, and the history of castles.

Mega thank you to Leah Trujillo- my fabulous assistant and co-creator of the project. There is no one I would rather spend a summer at the beach lugging equipment round with. xx

Ashley M. Richter and Leah Trujillo: creators and operators of 2012's Sandcastles for Science project.

Ashley M. Richter and Leah Trujillo: creators and operators of 2012’s Sandcastles for Science project.

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