Classical Archaeology and the Makerspace

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

A few weeks ago, R. Benjamin Gorham, a Ph.D. candidate in Classical Art & Archaeology at the University of Virginia, visited the Makerspace for a consultation on photogrammetry and 3D printing. Ben has been using GIS, drones, and photogrammetry during his summer excavations in Morgantina, Sicily and wanted to experiment with 3D printing his models. The physical reconstruction of archaeological sites offers exciting opportunities for both teaching and research, and I asked Ben to share a bit about his digital project:

The American Excavations at Morgantina: Contrada Agnese Project is an ongoing archaeological investigation at the ancient Graeco-Roman city of Morgantina, Sicily. As the Supervisor of Geospatial Studies at The Contrada Agnese Project, my goal is to translate the data from the field into useful, visual forms which can be studied, measured, and employed in publications and conferences. Part of this duty involves the creation, curation, and testing of a GIS database which serves as a nexus for all geographic data acquired in the field, including findspots, architectural features, and aerial imagery. Using a quadcopter drone we capture hundreds of images from the air every day, between 5 and 50 meters above our ongoing excavations. Agisoft Photoscan allows us to then combine these images with photos taken on the ground to create 3D models of our trenches and extant architecture, which are then hosted on our website and embedded in our GIS document. The Scholars’ Lab at UVa has allowed us to take this one step further, through the production of 3D-printed models of our trenches. We are using the Makerspace to generate hand-held versions of the buildings and trenches which are part of our ongoing excavations. This enables us to preserve every season’s results in a physical form. Since archaeology is an inherently destructive science, we are constantly removing, changing, and re-burying the stratigraphic records in the soil which we study in order to reveal more about the past, and these 3D-printed models serve as instructive units which can be examined, shared, and explored long after our project has either backfilled or dug past interesting features and periods of ancient history. This creates a permanent physical record of our project which would otherwise be partially lost every time our season concludes for the summer.

The Contrada Agnese Project is currently taking applications for Summer 2016 student volunteers. Please contact Ben,, or consult the application flier for more details.


Photogrammetry can only model what is visible in photographs, and Ben’s initial model only included the surface layer of the ground and trenches. The topographical irregularities, however, would not be possible to print without substantial supports.


To close the model and make it suitable for 3D printing, we needed to extend the y-axis so it lay flat on the printing platform. We imported the model into Meshmixer and used the Extrusion editing function to extend the base to the depth of the trenches.


We uploaded our model into Cure to slice it and generate the gcode for the Ultimaker 2.


Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end of our Ultimaker’s initial golden age of printing. We began experiencing extrusion problems, which is evident from our first attempt to print.


We switched to the Makerbot software and our Makerbot Dual printer to complete the print.


While the detail quality is not as clear as we would like, we were able to generate a successful print showing all of the trenches and topographical features. As we fix the Ultimaker 2, we will continue to experiment with printing size and quality to meet the project’s needs.

Jennifer is a 2015-2016 Makerspace Consultant and a 2014-2015 Praxis Fellow. She is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Art and Architecture and her research focuses on medieval architecture in Norse territories of NW Europe.

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