Stacked Box Hearths in 3D

Posted on Sep 30, 2013 in Prince Rupert Update, What's New

Here it is at last – the stacked hearths in 3D!  We have three videos for you today, highlighting the true “cool-ness” of 3D spatial data for archaeology!  While it just plain looks cool, the really cool thing is the ability to see relationships between all kinds of different things, from feature and artifacts, to stratigraphic facies,  faunal remains or sediment characteristics.  Virtually anything can be displayed combined with virtually anything else that was recorded.  When our president, Morley Eldridge, started archaeology in the late 1960s, he remembers fantasizing with his first excavation partner, Mike Blake (now an archaeology prof at UBC)  about how cool it would be to make the ground transparent and just see the artifacts where they lay.  This technology is getting close to that dream!

This first video shows the stacked hearths, in the order they were uncovered (top to bottom of course!), and then shows how the alignment of the upper level hearths is different from the lowest level of hearths – possibly the house that the hearths were in was rebuilt at a different angle.

The second video shows the 3D point cloud data, symbolized by the percentage of shell.  The points represent bucket groups – usually 4 to 6 buckets of material per bucket group; with typically several points representing the extent of area that the material in the bucket group was excavated from.  By symbolizing the data this way, in conjunction with the georeferenced 3D models of the stacked hearths, a clear pattern of low shell surrounding the hearths can be seen, suggesting that this was the interior of a house.  This analysis is strengthened by the presence of a clear posthole, which occurs at the interface of the low shell and the higher shell.

Careful excavation of the features

The data is only as good as what was put into the system of course.  For that, we had a great bunch of people from Millennia Research and from the Coast Tsimshian.  While many people helped to excavate these particular features, I’d like to point out the lion’s share of the meticulous excavation was done by Eugene Bryant of Lax Kw’alaams.  Eugene did a brilliant job of finding and exposing these features!

In this photo, Eugene is cleaning one hearth in preparation for photography. You can see the cache of boiling stones at the corner of the hearth, at centre frame; these unmodified pebbles would normally go unrecognized as artifacts or parts of a feature!

Our third video shows different types of artifacts which were found around the hearth features (note: in the video, “Points” refers to the artifact type, i.e. Projectile Points… elsewhere in this post, I have used the word “points” to describe a spatial geometry type).



These videos are just a taste of the analysis capabilities afforded by the use of 3D data including point cloud data and 3D models of features.  We are looking forward to finding other patterns as we continue to explore this data in 3D, and try out different methods of data exploration and analysis.

While today’s three videos concentrate on the area surrounding these stacked and aligned hearths, the system is infinitely scalable.  We can look at very small areas, or zoom out and compare data that are kilometres apart.  We are bypassing the ‘archaeological site’ as the primary unit of analysis.  With a universal dataset we can easily select data to analyse or compare: from one feature to another; between major layers; one house to another house; or one settlement to another settlement.


  1. Wow, Morley!

    This is tremendous. Congratulations on such a fantastic technological advancement!

    If you would like to present this at next year’s AGM, we will be more than happy to oblige.


    Kim B

  2. You really do want to talk with Loren Davis at Oregon State who is generating very similar 3-D maps in the field. This is really neat. I am interested in the ash deposits that may have been associated with the hearths. The hearth boxes down here were framed in wood and appear archaeologically as abrupt vertical terminuses (termini) of indurated ash lenses, ash lenses so hard they had to be broken up with geologists’ picks.

  3. This is great – nice job! This type of documentation had been used in Austria and Italy by some forward-thinking folks in the early 2000s. Nice to see it being used Canada where there often aren’t dimensionally complicated features. Kudos!

  4. We have been operating with a full digital system at Keatley Creek since 2009 (we started presenting on our early developments in 2007/2008 at conferences and elsewhere). A direction I implemented after utilizing similar systems in Europe since the early 2000’s. It is nice to see such things making their way into the consulting world in BC. Such approaches are a real time and cost saver and provide massive benefits in the field and for data processing and management, let alone interpretation. It is why I could not go back to string, line levels and graph paper after venturing into the digital ways. I am a big fan. Nice to see you are going that direction as well. Nice work! 🙂

  5. Great work Morley. I remember speculating about the 3-D possibilities in the excavations that I did in the Kootenays, and how practical that type of information would be for my research. Now the technology is available. Hope to see your presentation next week at the ASBC meetign.


  6. Morley, these are really far out. They spin a too quickly to allow inspection, but that’s a small criticism.

  7. Very cool Morely!

    I am glad everything turned out so well. Congratulations to you and your crew!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *