Constructing the Sacred: Visibility and Ritual Landscape at the Egyptian Necropolis of Saqqara

3D Model Documentation and Data Credits

Title: 3D Saqqara model

Creator: Dr. Elaine A. Sullivan, UC Santa Cruz (project director), Department of History, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz, CA, 95064,

Project Team:
UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Berkeley then-undergraduate or graduate students:
Technological and design support:
3D Saqqara Survey Project (GIS survey in Egypt):
Subject: archaeology, Egypt, landscape, architecture, Pharaonic Period, 3D modeling, GIS, visibility analysis, sacred space

Description: The integration of GIS and 3D modeling now allows for the re-creation and visualization of entire ancient landscapes. The 3D Saqqara model uses these capabilities to create a four-dimensional exploration of the ancient Egyptian cemetery of Saqqara, Egypt. Saqqara served as a burial place and cult center for kings, administrators, royal family members, artists, and non-elites over more than 3000 years. By simulating the changes in the built and natural landscape of the site over time, the 3D Saqqara model investigates the visual landscape that structured peoples’ understandings of their world and influenced their actions and perceptions of the ritual environment.

Publisher: Stanford University Press, as part of the publication Constructing the Sacred: Visibility and Ritual Landscape at the Egyptian Necropolis of Saqqara, 2020.

Project Funding: The 3D Saqqara project has been supported by:
Date: Project start date 2012, release date 2020

Type: 3D model

Format: Data files of the model or components making up the model exist in the following formats: OBJ, VSim, ESRI geo-database (GDB), ESRI CityEngine scenes (CEJ), and SketchUp (SKP)

Hardware Platforms: Windows 7 (Parallels), Mac OS 10.12.6 

Authoring Tools/3D Drawing Tools:

Original project base data was created in shapefile format using the ESRI ArcSuite software ArcMap and ArcCatalog versions 10.3, 10.5, and 10.6

3D models of major monuments were created to scale on published archaeological plans using Trimble SketchUp Pro versions 8.0, 2015 (15.3), and 2018 

The model was constructed in the urban simulation software ESRI CityEngine 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2018. Simple massing models of mastaba tombs at Saqqara and Helwan were created using procedural modeling in ESRI CityEngine

The model was additionally exported into the VSim scholarly 3D interface, version 2.0

An interactive version of the model was published online via the ESRI ArcGIS Pro 2.2.0 web application

Data Sources:

Digital monument footprint files of the area of North and Central Saqqara were created by an international team of Italian and Egyptian researchers, published in 2003 (E. Bresciani and A. Giammarusti, The North Saqqara Archaeological Site Handbook for the Environmental Risk Analysis. Pisa: Plus) and updated (2010) by Dr. Emanuele Brienza (GIS specialist, University of Enna, Sicily). These were shared with the project as 2D GIS shapefiles (SHP) and included attribute information on dating of monuments (in this project labeled Phase, Dynasty, Reign), monument descriptors (Type and Owner), as well as the early history of excavation (Discoverer and Years). Other metadata not relevant to this project was removed. This 2D data is the foundation for the 3D model. 

Additional digital monument footprints within Saqqara and throughout the Memphite area were created by the 3D Saqqara project by geo-referencing archaeological plans on ESRI satellite imagery. The project made every attempt to provide comparable metadata to that of the original Italian data. 

The model for the pyramid and enclosure of Djoser was provided by Dr. Mark Lehner, Director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA). 

All other 3D models were created by the 3D Saqqara project based on published archaeological information. See individual model metadata for specific sources. Models are simplified architectural massing models, so much architectural detail and most interior spaces have been omitted. 

GPR Survey of Saqqara data was provided by the Glasgow Museum’s Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project, Director Ian Mathieson (now deceased) and Geophysicist Jon Dittmer, during survey at the site from 1994–2009.

Data collected by the 3D Saqqara Survey Project in 2018 was obtained with the permission of the Department of Foreign Missions under the direction of the Secretary General and the Permanent Committee of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt. Tremendous thanks go to:
Digital terrains for areas of specific interest created for the project were based on the 1m topographic lines from the 1:5000 Survey of Egypt series maps, Consortium SFS/IGN France, “Le Caire.” Ministry of Housing and Reconstruction (MHR), the Arab Republic of Egypt, 1978. The data originates from aerial photos conducted in 1977 at a resolution of 1:15,000. Maps utilized include H21, H22, H24, I22, I23, and J22. These were hand-digitized by the 3D Saqqara project. The 1m topographic line files of the area of Giza and 5m topographic line files of the area of South Saqqara were provided by Dr. Mark Lehner, director of AERA. These were based on original MHR maps F17 and F18 (Giza area) and H23 (South Saqqara area). The Giza data was adjusted by AERA to reflect modern-day survey data.

Between major areas of archaeological interest, digital terrains were produced by the project with lower-resolution (10m) topographic line information based on the 1:50,000 maps “Egypt G8300,” in P773: Army Map Service, Corps of Engineers, US Army, 1961. Maps utilized include 5584 IV (Abusir), 5585 III (Cairo West), 5585 II (Cairo East), 5584 I (Helwan).

Additional 5m topographic lines files of the region of Memphis based on the MHR maps (see above) were provided by AERA. Portions of this data were combined with the G8300 maps series (see above) to create low-resolution terrains between major areas of archaeological interest. 

Key topographic maps of the Memphite area were shared with the project by Ana Tavares.

Language: English

Coverage: The project focuses on the site of Saqqara (29.874098° (Lat)/ 31.217318° (Long)) in the ancient and modern state of Egypt, southwest of the modern city of Cairo, but elements of the project include monuments and/or terrain data from the entire Memphite region, encompassing the archaeological sites of Dahshur, Saqqara, Abusir, Abu Ghurab, Zawiyet el-Aryan, Giza, Abu Rawash, Helwan, Memphis, and Heliopolis. This zone spans approximately the following area: SW: 29.784319° (Lat)/ 31.068335° (Long); SE: 29.782410° (Lat)/ 31.353292°(Long); NW: 30.104639°(Lat); 31.065751°(Long); NE: 30.103025° (Lat)/ 31.348812° (Long).

Temporal: The 3D model covers materials from the Early Dynastic Period through the Late Period of ancient Egypt (Dynasties 1–30). The chronological system is based on the chronology of the UCLA Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt:

Rights: Project copyright is retained by the content creator and the UC Regents; Stanford University Press holds rights to the published digital monograph associated with the model and the online web application.

The superstructure of the Dynasty 1 mastaba tomb #3505 was textured using images from Walter Emery, Great Tombs of the First Dynasty: Excavations at Saqqara. Vol. 3. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1958. Color plates 6, 7, 8. Images courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.

Additional satellite imagery courtesy of the DigitalGlobe Foundation.