4D reconstruction allows sites to be studied after excavation

The Digital Mapping and 3D Analysis Laboratory at the CENIEH has reconstructed the Trinchera del Ferrocarril sites in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) using terrestrial laser scanners so that their structures can be studied after they have been excavated

Alfonso Benito Calvo, a researcher at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), has coordinated a recent study published in the journal Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage on the 4D reconstruction of paleoarchaeological sites using terrestrial laser scanners and 3D processing software, which enables their structures to be studied even after they have been excavated.

Moreover, this work, carried out using the equipment of the CENIEH Digital Mapping and 3D Analysis Laboratory, shows how the excavation process evolves over time and assesses the degree of conservation of the sites, monitoring the extent of damage to the sections and surfaces not excavated.

“Our study shows the importance of three-dimensional and sequential documentation of paleoarchaeological excavations, for generating 4D databases (4Ddb), made up of referenced spatial data (such as orthoimages, elevation models, and 3D point grids and clouds) recorded over time, giving us the fourth dimension or 4D”, explains Benito Calvo.

Atapuerca in 4D

The excavation process entails the modification or destruction of sites, so that their 4D reconstruction is a key process in documenting them. In the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), the Trinchera del Ferrocarril sites (Gran Dolina, Galería and Sima del Elefante) have undergone scanning since 2012, so the geometry of the stratigraphic surfaces where the archaeological remains are found can be reconstructed.

“Thanks to these techniques, we now have virtual reconstructions of all the Trinchera sites, so they can be studied as though they had never been excavated", adds Benito Calvo.

Several other participants contributed to this work, who are attached to the Department of Geography at the Universidad de Valladolid, the Grupo Espeleológico Edelweiss, the Fundación Atapuerca, and the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, in Tarragona.