‘Umayri 2014: Structure from Motion

Every two years, I pack my cameras, lenses, and some studio equipment and make my way to Jordan for the summer. It isn’t for a vacation though, it’s for a solid 1.5 months of archaeological photography while I work for the Madaba Plains Project’s ‘Umayri site.

My relationship with ‘Umayri began in 2006 when I worked on the dig as part of my archaeology degree. I’ve always had an interest in the Middle East, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig through a (mostly) Bronze & Iron Age site.

Over the years, my responsibilities with the project have changed, going from archaeologist to archaeological photographer. Despite where my main duties lie, it’s not abnormal to find me spending the morning hours digging my heart out, uncovering places that haven’t seen the light of day for several thousand years. Unfortunately, an injury to my wrist back home has prevented me from digging this year.

Thankfully, all is not lost. New projects and technologies have kept me busy, quickly using up the time I would have dedicated to digging. It’s a lot of exciting stuff, too! I’m going to try an introduce as many of the technologies I can as we go, so here’s one new project that’s going on at ‘Umayri to start things off.

Every dig season, I’m in a rush to beat the sunrise. The early morning light is perfectly even, making it a great time to take pictures of each square1 every day. Through this process, we document the dig’s daily progress. It helps to make sure we notice subtle changes and also acts as a good way of recording specific loci2.

14H02091 - 10-Jul-14

A typical daily square photograph.

This year, we’ve added something new to the mix. Alongside the daily photos I shoot, the tech team is having me walk around the outside of each square, taking pictures as I go. The photos I take are then stitched together along with GPS data to create a topographical map of each square. This is called Structure from Motion (SfM) and it’s amazing to see a perfect recreation of each layer from one day to the next.

SFM - Photo Stitching - Web

An SfM image showing how the individual photos are stitched together.

SFM - Overview of a Square - Web

SfM image of the entire square, as would be viewed from above.

SFM - Detail Shot - Web

A detail shot showing the one-metre section the team has been excavating.

The ‘Umayri dig has always been on the cutting edge of new technology for archaeology and it is so much fun to be a part of that. Personally, technology is a big part of my life. I’m just in awe of the images that are being created through SfM.

1 A square is an area of 6 by 6 meters, where a team of at least two people are excavating.
2 A locus (plural: loci) is a discrete part of the square, where everything within a locus is the same, but everything outside of it is different.

All of the images in this post belong to the Madaba Plains Project. The daily site photograph was taken by Jillian Logee and is shared with MPP. Special thanks go out to Matthew Vincent and the MPP team for the screenshots of the Structure from Motion recreations.

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