Culture Education

Why Digital Heritage is Different

Having spent the past few days immersed in what the folks in Scotland are now calling “digital documentation” or “digidoc” for short I am beginning to realize that this application of 3D laser scanning (and other imaging technologies) is less about geometry and more about culture, or perhaps human interaction.

In the plant, infrastructure, BIM, construction, forensics, mining, you name it the goal is quite simple – document in 3D the as-found real world, or as Autodesk likes to say capture reality. With this accomplished the required 3D spatial relationships can be derived – game over.

In the digidoc world 3D data is just the beginning of the documentation process.  The real goal is to re-create cultural heritage, not provide dimensionally accurate 3D images. This is a much more challenging problem/opportunity because as they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What one person might think of as interesting and informative image might leave the next person wondering what they are looking at.

I suppose in the end it is really about visualization, but each human brain ( the most powerful CPU on earth) is different. Finding the right balance of science and art is much more of a challenge with digidoc, and what makes this application so intriguing.

Historic Scotland previewed a 25 minute, high end movie of the work they are doing with the Scottish 10 project and partners like the Glasgow School of Art and CyArk at a DigiDoc 2011 social event last night. There was also a single malt whiskey tasting event that was a lot of fun and very educational, or so it was billed.


  • The use of dimensionally accurate 3D images depends upon the questions you are asking of your site, and the final product that is required.

    Other research in the field of cultural heritage considers highly accurate 3D data fundamental to successful integration of different types of spatial data (i.e. geophysical surveys – GPR is fundamentally 3D, terrestrial and airborne laser scanning, excavation information – each strata, each artifact has a 3D volume or position, remote sensing data – 2 D yet spatially accurate, etc…) Successful integration of these types of data in a spatial environment is a powerful tool for site planning, preservation, and management.

    GIS software provides one environment for integration and quantitative assessment, but has some 2D limitations. Other visualization software, such as Avizo, originally designed for medical imaging, is being used in oil exploration and in some cases, adapted to near-surface cultural heritage applications.

    Determining spatial accuracy (in data capture) is like asking how long is a piece of string… When we approach each site, we need to ask specific questions in order to best plan our method for data capture and thus, provide appropriate information to attempt to answer the questions that we are investigating.

  • Indeed, subjective representation is an essential ingredient in expressing objective data. As someone (I cant remember who) once said “art without engineering is dreaming; engineering without art is calculating”
    Of course it is always difficult for artists and scientists to see eye to eye yet a good dose of free malt whiskey certainly helped!

    Enjoyed your presentation.

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