This years ICAANE in Bologna is different than before. Initially scheduled for last year, the ICAANE (International Conference on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East) was postponed due to the worldwide pandemic. They finally decided to do the conference virtually. While for some this hasn’t been a problem, I can imagine, that some dislike the idea of a virtual ICAANE in Bologna. I don’t. In fact I think this is great as it offers more people to participate during these difficult times.
Archaeoinformatics does usually not play a big part at the ICAANE. Although there are more and more topics and projects concerned with computational archaeology. I therefore decided to offer a workshop (a bundle of presentations dedicated to one topic) on Archaeoinformatics. Also, I kept my eyes open to interesting presentations outside my own workshop. I will give a summary of talks I have listened to here. I could not cover everything of course, but I tried my very best.
Archaeogaming and Energetics
The first presentation by Dominique Langis-Barsetti was actually an Archaeogaming topic: “Teaching the Neo-Hittite world one block at a time: Minecraft as an educational tool in archaeological outreach“. In this presentation Dominique presented her and her colleagues work on a project. Here, she and her colleagues utilise the videogame Minecraft to teach about Neo-Hittite culture. The game offers a reconstruction of a Neo-Hittite world in which the player can undertake mini-games and quests in order to learn about the past. She actually has already written about it here .
After that, Federico Buccelati (@BuccellatiF) presented his work on EnCab. The Energetic Calculator for Ancient Buildings, is a tool which enables to calculate energetic costs. If you want to know how labour-intensive creating a building was, you usually have to do a lot of calculations. These are called Energetics, basically which energy is going into creating something. Federico has created a calculator for that, in order for other scholars to use. You can find more information about the calculator here: https://www.encab.net/.
Later, Maria Gabriella Micale (@MicaleGabriella) showcased the usage of the calculator. Her presentation was entitled “Digital Tools and the Historical Setting of Ancient Architecture: The Case of Syria between Third and Second Millennia BCE“. Here, she calculated the relative effort of Syrian architecture between the 3rd and 2nd millennia. She was using as a case study the architectural remains in the ancient city of Ebla. Here, some elements appear for the first time. By calculating the effort that was going into the building, it helped the understanding of the historical development of ancient Syrian architecture.
Excavations and Surveys
Another presentation by Jens Rohde, showcased the “Three-dimensional visualization and analysis of stratigraphy and earth deposits in the Peshdar Plain Project“. The project not only works nearly paperless on the excavation. It also devised a system in which they easily can document the three-dimensional extensions of excavated earth deposits and layers. Not only architecture, but actually all layers in the excavation. This enabled them to visualise the relation to individual layers more clearly, but also to “re-excavate” the site digitally. You can find more information about the project here: https://www.uni-muenster.de/Altoriental/forschung/vaa/Peshdar_Plain_Projekt.html
Max Haibt and Jan Hubert were talking about the Warka Environs Survey. There, they and their team research the surroundings of the ancient city of Uruk, modern Warka. The area in question was about 40km², so a very big area to cover. They used a fixed-wing-UAV to fly over this in about 14 days. They produced over 27.000 RAW images. The UAV was able to start and land vertically, although it was a fixed-wing-UAV. The processing of the images took over a year, but the results are remarkable. On top of the Structure from Motion, they also used QGIS to analyse the orthophotos for features on the ground. You can even use your smartphone for checking features and comparing it to the QGIS in the field.
Preserving the Past
Another paper was presented by Marco Valeri with the title “OrientGIS – Networked GIS in Archaeology. The cases of the Ebla Chora and Floodplains Projects“. The team presented an elaborate online spatial database of the Southwest Asian region. In it are sites that deal with a wide variety of research topics, from endangered cultural heritage to spatial analyses. The website is not online yet at the time of writing. You can already get some information about the project here however: http://www.orientgis.net/.
Juan Aguilar showed us how he 3D scanned ISIS looters tunnels beneath Tell Nebi Yunus. At the tell, an old Assyrian Palace was found and looted by ISIS. His 3D scans provided a detailed map of the tunnels beneath the modern mosque. He also analysed how the modern architecture puts pressure on the ancient remains beneath. This project is in fact immensely helpful in documenting the destruction that was made before these tunnels collapse again. According to his presentation, the tunnels offer even a crude way of mapping the buried palace.
The talk by Hassan el-Hajj was titled “Detecting Archaeological Damage from Space using Open Source Satellite Data and Machine Learning: The Case of the Near East“. It was an example how satellite data can be used to monitor the looting and destruction of Cultural Heritage sites. By using SAR imagery from different days, algorithms can detect areas that were disturbed by human action. They can therefore create an alarm system for looting or destruction. As Hassan told us, the satellite images are really up-to-date, so sometimes just 6 hours old.
Unfortunately, I could not catch all the presentations with Digital and Computational content. In any case but I saw a few, which makes me pretty hopeful for the future of the ICAANE. I sincerely hope, that the next ICAANE in 2023 will at lest offer the same amount of digital topics. The next conference will be held in Copenhagen by the way, so maybe see you there? I will definitely be part of this, either in presence or digitally.