3D Scanning Part 1

13 09 2010

A large part of my dissertation is based on the pottery excavated from Safut, specifically the diagnostic sherds I have in my possession here at Andrews University.  Without these 100’s (1000’s ?) of sherds I wouldn’t have a dissertation, and I had to determine the best way to draw all of them.  The old school way of drawing sherds is to cut the sherd in half using a wet saw, then trace the profile using pencil, and eventually ink it.  Of course there were more steps along the way including determining radius of the sherd and its stance.  One of our MPP colleagues, Bob Bates, developed a way of drawing the sherds using a flatbed scanner and adobe photoshop.  This process is somewhat involved but created very nice looking sherd drawings.  Unfortunately one must still cut the sherd in order to scan its profile and there is still some guess work when creating the drawing in photoshop, determining the radius, and stancing the sherd.

A few years ago at the annual meetings of the American Society for Oriental Research in San Diego I heard a paper by Neil Smith of UCSD, discussing various technologies they were incorporating into the Edomite Lowlands Project.  One of these technologies was a 3D scanner and computer program that would convert the scanned sherd image into a nice drawing.  I was immediately fascinated and talked with Neil after about the logistics of the process, cost of the machine, etc.  I convinced my professors of the importance of this technology and began emailing Neil and Avshalom Kerasik who had developed this whole process at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.

A little over a year after hearing the original paper by Neil, we purchased a NextEngine 3D Scanner.  This machine costs around $4,000 including software, which is a fraction of the cost of most scanners of comparable quality.  This post is getting long, so tomorrow I’ll explain how we get a pottery drawing from the 3D scan, and why it is so much better than the old way of drawing sherds.

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