The University of Kentucky Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments

Vis Center Team scans artifacts in Missouri Cave

Archaeologists have used digital photography to document ancient findings for many years now. But a group from the University of Kentucky Vis Center (Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments) is using Structured Light Illumination (SLI) to gather 3-dimensional data on such artifacts, allowing for scientific measurement.

In September 2010, Blazie Professor Dr. Larry Hassebrook, Bill Gregory and graduate student Eli Crane joined cave specialists and Transylvania University professor Dr. Christopher Begley in exploring a Missouri cave to capture 3D scans of human footprints, bear paw prints, and cave art, all believed to be from the mid-1400’s.

Carbon dating indicates that the cave was sealed off around 1435 A.D., perhaps by a cave-in. In 1985, the cave reopened by a natural sink hole. In order to insure the protection of the cave’s rare artifacts, the landowners granted generous access for scientific exploration and study on the condition that the cave’s location be kept secret.

The team at the entry site.

The group entered the cave by rappelling in and then lowering equipment by rope. Dr. Hassebrook’s Vis Center team brought their extensive experience with SLI research and development, as well as their mobile SLI scanner which is battery operated for remote mixed resolution scanning without need for a generator. The team worked on two sites in the cave, one with human and bear prints, as well as in the ‘art gallery’ with the cave art.

Targeting a set of human climbing toe prints.

Bear paw prints to be scanned.

The expedition was a complete success, collecting more than a dozen 3D scans of the prints and artwork. The scans produce a 3D point cloud with more than 2 million 3-Dimensional points as well as a 18 million pixel color image. These can be combined into one color 3-Dimensional scan. Adding the 3-Dimensional coordinates to every pixel allows for scientific measurement of the data.

UK Vis Center/Transy team, Eli Crane, Dr. Larry Hassebrook, Dr. Chris Begley and Bill Gregory, targeting the cave art to be scanned.

Dr. Hassebrook has already used the SLI scanning technology in Honduras, Kentucky and Spain, as well as various laboratory scans. The mobile mixed resolution SLI scanner shows great potential for further data acquisition of in situ archaeological artifacts in remote or sensitive areas.

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