Exploring digital tools for the virtual reconstruction of findings, excavation surfaces and other archaeological records

My name’s Daniela, I’m 29 and I live in Virrey del Pino, a suburban neighbourhood in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. I work in the public sector as a technician in the Historical Museum of La Matanza (HMLM). My job consists in taking up excavations and planning outreach activities, sometimes it includes speaking in public events. I’ve dug some areas in the Museum backyard (“El Pino” site) and also in another site near it (“La Elvira” site) , so if you want to see pictures of them check out our Archaeology Lab Facebook Page and its Blog (both in Spanish).

Well, the title preaches “Exploring digital tools…”, and that means that what I’m going to write about is the use of photographs  for reconstructing objects and surfaces, which is what we’ve been doing recently (let’s call it “a project”). It should be mention that exploring this technique was Marcelo Vitores‘ idea.  I wasn’t sure it would worth it, but he insisted. And he was right! The results we obtained were really good.

from photos to 3d model

From photos to 3d model

Budget and curiosity were the motivation for exploring this “tool”. As almost any archaeologist in the Third World, we couldn’t buy a laser scanner because of the limited budget, but we thought we should find a way to make the most out of our existing equipment. Then curiosity made its part, by leading us through the exciting road of image-base modelling (IBM). There are different options within IBM, but the one we used is structure-from-motion (SFM). In simple words, it’s a method for obtaining a 3D cloudpoint, which consist of a .ply file where the recognized features (points) from the photos are displayed in 3D.  The resulting pointcloud can be used to create a 3D model. This means that with only a digital camera and a computer/laptop we could get similar results to those of laser scanning. For processing the photos we used Phyton Photogrammetry Toolbox and for editing the pointcloud we used Meshlab. See more pictures in this Facebook album and also in these Blog posts, or browse the models in 3D in Sketchfab.

Many archaeologists and cultural heritage professionals are including SFM in their activities. Besides the uses for public outreach, having the 3D models allows you to measure, section, compare, etc. If you take the time to record every level excavated (and I’m sure it’s something you already do), you can build a sequence of surfaces, like the layers in a cake. Here’s a sample of our models. In this case, I used archived photos of an excavation and I obtained the model shown in the link (since I couldn’t embed the model here’s a picture of it; visit the link to navigate the model in 3D).

3D model out of archived photos (from the regular excavation recordings)

3D model out of archived photos (from the regular excavation recordings)

This was my contribution to the Day of Archaeology 2014.  I tried to keep it short, but if you want to read more about IBM and SFM here are some links:

Happy Day of Archaeology!

Daniela N. Ávido

Social zooarchaeology at Nortwestern Argentina

I’m a zooarchaelogist, meaning that my field of research is the analysis of faunal remains at sites. These range from the refuse of killing and consumption of herd animals, to sacrifices made at burials. My work is focused on the agrarian communities of the semiarid valleys of Northwestern Argentina, from 500 B.C. to 1500 AD.

The first step on faunal analysis is the description of bones or bone fragments found at sites, identifying their anatomical source, taxonomy and the post-mortem traces left by humans and natural agents. The goal is to picture the chain of activities that produced the evidence in its actual state.  Later, you try to test different hypothesis about behavior and their cultural, economic or political constraints. My main interests are those practices that are conditioned by economic and political inequalities. From the 500 to 1450 AD the northwestern of Argentina was the stage of various complex organizations and polities (regional cults, chiefdoms). Later, it was conquered by the Inca Empire. These social transformations were based on the extraction of surplus production from peasant communities, and justified by tradition and ritual practices.

Right now I’m doing my postdoctoral research, and working on publishing the results of my doctoral research. I work at the Museo Etnográfico J. B. Ambrosetti (Universidad de Buenos Aires).


Carlos Belotti López de Medina, Phd.

Breadwinning & Archaeology – It´s Part of the Game, Folks!

Maria Beierlein de Gutierrez, Yavi-Chicha ceramic, colonial ceramic and plastic container

Maria Beierlein de Gutierrez, Yavi-Chicha ceramic, colonial ceramic and plastic container

When I found out about the Day of Archaeology, my heart went out to it. I was inspired to write about this day to make the world know what all these supposedly dusty archaeologists are working on. Let me put my grain of sand to it! As an archaeologist, I am working for 10 years now in a remote region of South America: the Altiplano de Sama in South Bolivia. Home to a overwhelming regional culture called Yavi-Chicha, which has been consistent for as long as 1000 years between 500 and 1535 A.C. We don’t know much about it, and that is where all my questions about it come from. Who were these people? Why were they so self-constrained but at the same time so widely spread in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina? Apart from this archaeological work I have been writing at Language of Things on materiality, museums, archaeology and other musings. Its kind of a non-scientific channel of work.

And it was when I heard about the actual DAY of archaeology, the 11th of July, that I realized that maybe my Day of Archaeology would depict something typical of archaeological work, but that is NOT included in the least in the popular vision of “the shovel-swinging archaeologist“. It´s the fact that I won’t be doing “archaeology” in the term of “working in the field/lab”. Instead, I will be dedicating half of the day to the work that earns my and my family´s daily bread. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with archaeology. And the other half of the day I organized someone who will take care to pick up my son from school and I myself will be off: to a course on museum on “Teaching & Curating“. And by now, I can almost see the question marks in the eyes of everyone. What the hell has all this to do with archaeology? I can tell you.

Archaeology, as has been stated over and over by some awful colleagues (have a look here, if you like), is a job which is almost always underpaid. That is, if you get a job at all. Which I haven’t. At least not an archaeological one. I am working in an office, and all my archaeological work, the writing, thinking and analyzing sherds, has been reduced to my spare time. Which is not much, considering that I am alone with my son because his dad is doing an extended fieldwork session far away (which I support, by the way, so I won’t complain about this). But this means that time is reduced to the wee hours of the night. And I am not alone in this – almost every archaeologist I know has some sideline of work that has NOTHING to do with archaeology – but it pays our rent.

Over the years, this situation became more and more intolerable to my archaeological soul and I decided to go off and try another line of work, one with is more in line with archaeology. Which is where the second half of my “Day of Archaeology” comes in. Curating & teaching at a museum is in line with my fervent belief that we have to communicate archaeology and the past, as much and as best we can. So I took this course consisting of 5 modules, and am learning about curating & teaching at the museum. I am trying for a year now to get into it, but museums (as well as archaeology as a career) scarcely offer “real” jobs. And I can’t afford to apply to almost unpaid internships. And I can’t be taking courses which require me to move house for 6 months and stay away from my home for weeks on end. Someone was joking these days that archaeologists don’t have kids and its true: doing archaeology is difficult if you want to raise children at the same time.

So, this is my day of archaeology: earning the daily bread in an office. Going off by noon, I switch over to the museum to take the course in order to get back to a job related to archaeology. And in the night, after sharing s´thoughts with colleagues as concerned with museum teaching as I am, I will be reading literature on sherds and ceramic analysis. Because in the end, something wonderful has happened: I can prepare myself and our son for a trip to South America, going to analyze some hundred sherds of the formative and regional period – i.e. between 500 b.C. – 1535 a.C. I got funded for a four-week-trip and we will be doing this together. That’s the other side of archaeology: you get all the “exotic” fieldwork you ever wanted. So I will be back to where the photo above comes from: Bolivia. Seeing pots.

And this means that, again, I have to be 100 % prepared on topics like “style“, “material culture” and the meaning of things in a society that lived some 600-1000 years ago. It’s one of the most fascinating works Ive ever known and I have to admit that I will never cease to speak about its relevance to us. These sherds mean so much to the people that live right now in this region, that they founded a society that reincarnates the past to the living people. They claim to be descendants of the producers of this ceramic I am studying. They see these past people as their ancestors, as their cultural roots. If THIS is not relevance of the past to the here and now, I don’t know what could ever be relevant. It´s risky and its controversial, but it IS a real connection of today’s people to a past. A past that has been created and transformed, but a past that matters in a very direct way to many persons.

So, maybe my “Day of Archaeology” can sum up some parts of archaeology, even if I am not working currently in an archaeological job. But the non-archaeological bread winning, the desire of being currently developing skills to communicate our field of study and the practical work of studying a part of the past that is relevant to living people – maybe these three things can make clear what archaeologists do.

Let´s do it again&again&again!

Research team at Torohuayco, Sama, Bolivia, in 2007.

Research team at Torohuayco, Sama, Bolivia, in 2007.


OUTREACH – Arqueología, Museos y Educación / Archaeology, Museums & Education

This was posted in Spanish and English (English is not my first language: I apologize for any mistakes)

Scroll down to read ENGLISH VERSION


Trabajo en el Museo Etnográfico “Juan B. Ambrosetti”. Es un museo universitario (depende de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Buenos Aires) que cumple funciones de investigación, difusión y educación, enfocado en antropología y arqueología. Nuestras exhibiciones hablan sobre temáticas vinculadas a los pueblos originarios del actual territorio argentino y de otras partes del mundo.

Soy educadora y guía en el Programa de Público General del Área de Extensión Educativa del Museo. Allí, me encargo de dar visitas guiadas en español e inglés, organizar eventos y actividades culturales y ayudar en el armado de la gráfica para difundir las actividades, entre otras tareas.

¿Qué es lo que hice este viernes, en mi Día de Arqueología? Mucho, aunque no siempre relacionado con la disciplina: fue un día de gestión, diseño y difusión y mucho trabajo en equipo: pensando en niños, redes sociales y medios de comunicación.

Lo más rápido del día:

¿Alguna vez vieron en televisión esos concursos en que los participantes deben gastar una cierta cantidad de dinero en un corto tiempo? La buena noticia es que nosotros sabemos qué debemos comprar y averiguamos de forma anticipada los mejores precios: pero una vez que tenemos el dinero, ¡hay que correr!

¿La misión? Comprar todos los materiales necesarios para Vacaciones de Invierno 2012 (actividades especiales dirigidas a niños de 5 a 12 años en su receso escolar invernal, del 14 al 29 de julio): desde lápices de colores hasta maquillaje artístico y un maniquí.

Mi gran dolor de cabeza:

Terminar de diseñar los volantes y el póster para difundir las Vacaciones de Invierno 2012: soy (casi) arqueóloga: no soy diseñadora ni artista gráfica. Lograr que nuestra difusión se vea atractiva, llamativa y que, a la vez, contenga toda la información que queremos brindar, puede ser motivo de frustraciones… y de grandes satisfacciones cuando todo sale bien.

Vacaciones de Invierno 2012 en el Museo (flyer)

Lo que llevó más tiempo:

Subir una videocomunicación acerca de nuestro trabajo como educadores, para participar de un congreso virtual de museos y educación en España. Lo que pensamos sería fácil se complicó: por muchos problemas de conectividad, subir un video de 10 minutos me llevó ¡más de 20 horas!

Lo más esperado:

Armar la página de Facebook del Museo, para compartir y difundir nuestras actividades. ¡Algo que venimos planificando desde hace mucho, mucho tiempo!

El museo Etnográfico está en Facebook (poster)

La sorpresa:

Me tocó recibir a un periodista y su equipo de filmación (de un canal privado de televisión por cable) que quería conocer y difundir al Museo entre su audiencia. Los acompañé por tres de las exhibiciones, hablando de nuestra historia, los objetos, las investigaciones y las visitas guiadas que realizamos: un recorrido de 40 minutos que tienen que reducir a sólo 8 minutos: ¿la magia de la televisión?

Y como la vida no termina en el Museo…

Cuando llegué a casa, me puse a trabajar en más diseño gráfico. Esta vez en un banner para el proyecto de investigación arqueológica en el que estoy participando: “Estudio de los procesos sociales prehispánicos en la quebrada de La Cueva (extremo septentrional de la Quebrada de Humahuaca)”, dirigido por la Dra. Ramundo.

¿Qué me quedó pendiente?

Sentarme a estudiar para una visita guiada dirigida a estudiantes de arqueología e historia que vendrán al Museola semana que viene. La visita y sus contenidos los conozco bien, pero trato de actualizarme y mantenerme al día con las últimas investigaciones relacionadas.

SEGUIR ESCRIBIENDO MI TESIS (en mayúsculas por el tono de pánico).

Serán mis tareas de fin de semana…

Ya inventarán un día de 30 horas.


I’m an educator and a guide at the “Juan B. Ambrosetti” Ethnographic Museum. It’s a university museum (we belong to the School of Humanities of the Universidad de Buenos Aires) focused on Indigenous Peoples of what we currently know as Argentina, and other parts of the world. The museum has three aims: research, outreach and education.
What did I do this Friday, in my Day of Archaeology? A lot, although not always related to archaeology.

You can listen to the English translation of my post:

Part 1 Day of Archaeology 2012 – part1

Part 2 Day of Archaeology 2012 – part2

Part 3 Day of Archaeology 2012 – part3

Archaeology down South: between Buenos Aires and Patagonia

Right now it’s winter here in Argentina and we are nearing the end of the first term at the Universidad de Buenos Aires where I teach a year long course in Research Design. Facing me is a pile of my student’s projects to finish correcting by Monday, our last class before the winter break. It is often frustrating but, then again, immensely satisfying when our students finally develop the knack and learn how to put together a solid research proposal. What I most enjoy are the original ideas they bring each year, and being able to keep up with new subjects or research in regions I have little time for otherwise. I enjoy teaching and tutoring.

My time in Buenos Aires is mostly dedicated to carrying out analyses and writing about our research in the archaeology of Originary Peoples in Southern Patagonia. The research year for me “begins” in April after our return from the field and I have to begin to download, classify and label all our digital information (photos, GPS data) as well as digitize our field notes. A lot of this goes into Dropbox so all our team can easily access our database. All this last week I have been going over our field notes trying to inventory and choose more samples to date the archaeological deposits. We also have to plan for time writing up our research as well as preparing for two conference presentations programmed for October. All of a sudden the year seems already too short. (more…)

Archaeology of a Japanese camp in Western Canada

One week as passed since the seven week fieldwork portion of an archaeology project I direct has passed, and for at least part of the day I am trying to make sense of it, and put the highlights into a report for the principal stakeholders.  The fieldwork focussed on an early 20th century Japanese camp in the forests of western Canada, and the work was undertaken primarily by those enroled in a university field school.  Those interested in the project  may want to take a look at a blog one of the students maintained. During the course of the field school, the blog had more than 3,000 hits from 20 countries, ranging alphbetically from Argentina to Zimbabwe. The blog includes daily posts, with multiple photos each day and severa video clips.

The site is unique, perhaps the only of its kind in North America, with a bathhouse, gardens, considerable evidence of women, and at least several cabins (rather than a typical bunkhouse and central mess hall). The peak period of occupation was clearly as a logging camp for a few years around 1920 and was probably exclusively Japanese.  The focus of the 2012 excavations was to get a good idea about the camp layout, with a view to making it an interpretive stop along a nearby trailway, and to test the hypothesis that after its initial use as a logging camp a small group of Japanese continued to secretly occupy the camp until the early 1940s.

The report I am writing includes a section on the primary objectives of the project, which include training university students in field archaeology, documenting heritage resources in this heavily-forested area, making scholarly contributions to the archaeology of logging camps and Asian-American sites, and public education about archaeology and local history.

Now a heavily forested area near Vancouver, Canada, several decades ago this was a Japanese camp, with several cabins, gardens, and a bathhouse.

In order to write the report, I have been reviewing the artifact catalog, about 600 pages of field notes, and student reports which include maps and analytical reports. My tentative interpretation is that there were at least several cabins located along two wooden plank roads, the site was unique insofar as it was laid out with many typical Japanse features, and that it probably did continue to be occupied secretly by Japanese from the mid 1920s to the early 1940s. I only have circumstantial evidence so far though. I hope to find evidence of a post 1920s occupation in the severa hundred artifacts collected.