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

Making the Model

One of the main impediments to the academic use of 3D materials in archaeology has been the lack of transparency in modeled works. For models to be integrated fully into scholarly dialogue, researchers must be able to access the metadata (base information from which the model was constructed) and paradata (decisions/choices made by the modeling team in each reconstruction).1 This parallels a larger concern for the publication of digital humanities scholarship in general. In a 2017 white paper on the integration of digital technologies into the field of history, authors agreed that pressure to shorten methodological discussions in publications (or to leave them out altogether for publication elsewhere) “disconnected” methodology and argument, creating a problematic gap between process and conclusions.2 The suppositions and conclusions in the other sections of the work rest significantly on the choices made in the 3D visualizations, so I intentionally include this discussion of critical aspects of the project methodology here, as a full part of this work, to articulate the many choices that shaped the outcome of this research.

This section describes a series of critical issues in the 3D model construction. I begin with the process for building custom monuments and procedurally built monuments. This includes the choices I made in temporalizing the monuments (in a very rudimentary way) as they appeared, changed, and/or disappeared in the model in an attempt to reflect monument deflation, change, or the disassembling of whole structures. Next, I discuss the construction of the digital terrains and their adjustment to reflect historical ground horizons. I consider the impact and limitations of the technologies used in this project, attempting an introspective look at how the capabilities and limitations of the technology choices have influenced the process and results. A more step-by-step technical workflow for the project is published elsewhere for those interested in process and software, as this section focuses on the larger conceptual questions that shaped the model form.3 Following these discussions of model details, I turn to larger questions of scale and resolution in GIS systems and their potential influence on the project. Finally, I discuss the creative process of reconstruction and the model as a form of argumentation. I make the case that the model is itself a kind of rhetoric and should be recognized as a highly curated interpretation of the site by the author that involves the same type of selection, evaluation, and disregarding of data made in any other form of scholarly argument.

In order that readers and interested researchers can more closely examine and potentially reuse the model’s base data, many of the digital files are included in this publication (Section 8) for individual download with a Creative Commons license. Eighty-five custom-modeled 3D monuments are available for examination and reuse. Limp has persuasively argued that, for digital archaeology to grow and thrive, reuse of our digital products must be the “ultimate objective.”4 Traditional scholarly products—our written ideas—are quoted, cited, and reshaped by subsequent scholars, adding to a field’s general intellectual development. Similarly, in order for 3D and digital content to become fully integrated into the discipline of archaeology, we must encourage its reuse and facilitate its interpretation through robust metadata documentation.5 Following recommendations of the London Charter ( principles/documentation.html), these individual entries are associated with extensive metadata and paradata that document the uncertainty or knowledge claim, the research sources on which the model was designed, and the decision-making process for each model construction. Due to space limitations with the interface, this full documentation could not be included directly within the online web viewer version of the model.

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