2 min

Old disciplines via new means

Archaeologists examine prehistoric stone figures with 3D scanner

Old disciplines via new means
Old disciplines via new means
Copyright: AlbertoMarretta / Parco Archeologico Comunale di Seradina Bedolina

In the North Italian valley Valcamonica people of prehistoric cultures carved drawings, so-called Pitoti, in stone. These mostly thousands of years old illustrations of humans, objects and abstract patterns are very difficult to access and may be very easily destroyed. The EU project 3D-Pitoti records more than 50 000 engravings and makes them, with the help of modern media technology, accessible to a wide audience. The use of 3D cameras, drones and new methods of analysis facilitates the archaeologists’ work. 

Hunters, gatherers, maps

Hunters and gatherers, warriors and horsemen, houses, animals, writings in Etruscan alphabet and abstract symbols: thousands of drawings engraved in stone cover the grey rocks of the valley Valcamonica in Lombardy.

More than 50 000 petroglyphs were carved into stone in the flanks of the valley between 4000 B.C and the middle Ages. These are called Pitoti, which is the word for ‘small doll’ in a local dialect. They are listed as UNESCO world heritage and show hunting, duelling and dancing scenes as well as Europe’s first map.

Support for archaeologists

By making use of the latest technologies in this project media technicians digitalize the stone engravings. This enables archaeologists to thoroughly research the Pitoti without being dependent on the weather. Thus, they can do their work comfortably in laboratories and the stones are not exposed to further abrasion.

“The traditional methods of keeping records is very time-consuming: we have to draw the figures on plastic sheets by hand. As those sheets change according to temperature drawings are distorted. Besides, the new technology provides more details. Therefore, we could find answers to unresolved questions, where we reached limits with the old methods”, says Alberto Marretta, archaeologist and head of the Parco Archeologico Comunale di Seradina-Bedolina in Capo di Ponte in the valley of Valcamonica.

Third dimension of rock carvings

In the course of the project 3D-Pitoti the three-dimensionality of the petroglyphs is examined and recorded for the first time. In this project St. Pölten UAS works under the direction of the University of Nottingham and with the participation of the University of Cambridge on the development of intelligent data processing technologies. They aim at detecting inherent structures in the 3D-data of the recorded petroglyphs and at making them usable.

Through detailed information about marks on the rocks conclusions may be drawn about the production of the drawings by the researchers after the evaluation of the results: questions like whether the tools were made of metal or stone or which technique they used to carve the rock may be answered. Regarding the structure of the rock carvings certain styles may be determined and individual artists may be identified.

“Together with archaeologists we developed and tested a Machine-Learning-Method which enables us to analyse and classify every new 3D recordings of a petroglyph: whether they show an anthropomorphic figure, an abstract drawing or the Camunian Rose, which is also to be found on the Lombard emblem, or any of the many other motives”, says Markus Seidl, assistant head of the Institute for Creative\Media/Technologies (IC\M/T) and project manager of 3D-Pitoti at the St. Pölten UAS.

“Understanding this archive of prehistoric drawings, enjoying it and maintaining it for future generations is a great challenge. Media technology allows us to see the drawings of the valley Valcamonica in a new way“, says Marretta.

Project 3D-Pitoti

The project “3D Pitoti – 3D acquisition, processing and presentation of prehistoric European rock-art” is financed by the European Union in the framework of the 7th general programme. Project partners are the University of Nottingham (Human Factors Research Group/Faculty of Engineering, direction), the University of Cambridge, the Bauhaus Universität Weimar, Graz University of Technology, the ARCTRON 3D LLC as well as ASSOCIAZIONE CENTRO CAMUNO DI STUDIPREISTORICI ED ETNOLOGICI. Duration: March 2013 to February 2016