The 3D model of site PG64 allows one to contextualize finds (pottery, in this case) and understand their physical find-spots on a horizontal plane (numbered blocks or letter squares across the surface of the excavated site), as well as a vertical plane (depth, or excavation layer). The position of finds along the horizontal axis helps understand the functional use of space at a given habitation phase of the site. On the other hand, position along the vertical axis can illuminate the date of a layer and any corresponding habitation phases or features. This tool can be used to quickly visualize the archaeological contexts of ceramic finds, draw inferences about the relative dates of different wares, evaluate their distribution across site PG64 and double-check interpretations made in the lab. In the context of K12 education, the tool can help a lay audience grasp spatial relationships between finds more intuitively. In the latter direction, it can support instruction about the diversity cultures in Virginia, showcasing finds from different eras and cultures attested at the site, and provide a visual framework for understanding and applying methods utilized in archaeology to reconstruct the past (e.g. stratigraphy, grids, etc.).

Model functionality

The ‘Explore in space’ tool can be used in two ways: first, spatial attributes may be selected on the left side of the page (choice of blocks, squares or levels in any desired combination). Additional characteristics can be selected by expanding the ‘Other filters’ option. On ‘Apply’, the relevant data, if available for that particular combination of characteristics, is fetched from the database and displayed both in the model (as highlighted excavation units) and in the list below (as a list of finds). Each list entry is further selectable to view the complete database record and images are expandable for detailed scrutiny.

A second way of interacting with the tool is directly through the Unity model. Feel free to experiment with the model navigation by panning around (‘Move around’) or tilting and rotating the model (‘Look around’) to view the layers from the desired angle; peel away or build up entire layers across the excavation (‘Go up’ or ‘Go down a layer’), and fetch those data for visualization in the model (‘Query database’); alternatively, select single letter blocks (‘Select single’, bottom right side of the model), a stratigraphic sequence in a letter square (‘Select column’), or a layer (‘Select layer’), and then query the database. In this mode, multiple squares can be selected at once by clicking ‘Select’ and then left click and drag. Notably only those squares that contained relevant finds will be highlighted in the model (some squares did not produce any finds). The 2D excavation map and a reconstructed 3D model of the Stone House can seen by clicking in the relevant boxes above the Unity model window, to get a better sense of how abstract excavation units correspond with architectural features.

Accessing the tool

The Explore in space tool can be accessed by clicking the image below. The Unity model is not presently available on mobile devices; however, the basic search on the left of the model will populate a list of relevant finds as needed on all platforms. It is recommended that this tool be used in conjunction with the excavation materials (especially information on excavation layers) and the select Virginia ceramics tutorials. K12 prompts for use in secondary education are also available. The finds can also be accessed in a simple list form that contains contextual information here.

Technical notes

This tool is a collaborative effort between various units of the University of Virginia and Bitsource, a development firm in Pikesville, Kentucky. The University of Virginia handled the creation of the Unity widget and the Drupal database, while Bitsource created the API to translate data between the two. The Unity widget runs on WebGL and both sends and receives JSON data. The API works as a module (JS/PHP) passing information back and forth via Drupal. Settings are variable, translating the exposed filter search into JSON data and vice-versa. It was user-tested by University of Virginia students in the Spring of 2019 to optimize the interface and experience. The project’s Unity/Drupal integration code is open source and available for download at Github.