3D Model of Ta’an: Ancient Egyptian Sarcophagus

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Did you know that the only two ancient Egyptian mummies in Indiana are located in Richmond? One is in Wayne County Historical Museum, and the other is right here at Earlham College as a part of the Joseph Moore Museum. We are excited to introduce you to an exciting project we had been working on, in cooperation with the Computer Science Department and the Joseph Moore Museum.

Charlie taking photo of the Egyptian sarcoph
Charlie takes photographs of the sarcophagus. Ann-Eliza (not featured) is holding a white backdrop.

Despite the museum’s closure to the public since the pandemic, Joseph Moore Museum has been working to bring better and improved exhibitions to the public when it reopens. With an Indiana humanities grant, students in the Exhibit Design class redesigned the ancient Egypt exhibit. Over the winter break, the existing exhibit was demolished. For the first time in 10 years, the sarcophagus was taken out of the display case before the demolition and moved to a safe location.

As soon as the Spring semester started, Charlie, Craig, and Yujeong went down to the museum for a rare opportunity to digitize the sarcophagus. With the goal to build a 3-dimensional digital model of the sarcophagus, Charlie and Craig took overlapping photos of the sarcophagus from the top and its four sides, summing up to 180 photos. We then used the a 3D building software (ODM) to build a digital model of Ta’an’s sarcophagus.

Craig takes photographs of the sarcophagus from its side.

If you are already familiar, ODM, also known as OpenDroneMap, is an unusual tool of choice with its intended purpose of processing aerial imagery into maps and 3D models. In fact, ODM is a primary tool used by Icelandic Field Studies, an interdisciplinary research group that collaborates with archeologists in Iceland to build a widely applicable system out of open-source, open-hardware software. As one of its primary project recently funded by the National Geographic Society, the IFS group has been surveying several ancient Norse sites in Iceland to look for early settlement activity from subterranean features with tools like ODM.

A student take photographs in Iceland during a research trip for Icelandic Field Studies.

The digitized 3D model of the sarcophagus can be viewed on MeshLab, and it encompasses an incredible amount of details. Viewers can take a close look at the paintings, textures, and even cracks on the sarcophagus. Furthermore, even after the sarcophagus decomposes past its preservation plan, we now have an accurate visual data of the artifact that future scholars can use to study and honor.

We’re on track for summer

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Discussions are ongoing about the viability of summer travel given the pandemic. However, as Charlie has blogged recently, we are “acting as if”. As such, we are trying to maintain our original calendar.

Lo and behold, we have:

Imagine a “You are here” arrow by Spring 1

Here’s the full breakdown of that schedule and our progress:

Our plan for the fall was to find and test alternative UAV’s. This proved prudent, as the federal government banned DJI craft late last year. We are happy with both the Parrot and the Skydio craft, for different reasons which we’ll undoubtedly cover here on this blog in the future.

December and January, which were effectively a long winter break for a subset of us, were dedicated to testing the craft, capturing initial video, and possibly beginning development. This was a success as well. Additionally we have begun spinning up a more sophisticated web presence for the stories we’re telling – changes we will be prepared to publish soon.

We’ve now started the calendar for the spring, term 1 of 2. We are moving into scaling up our operation of the craft and developing software to automate that work. It’s a tough problem but one we can solve in the time we have.

We’re optimistic about our ability to meet the moment. If the world continues to make progress on COVID-19, we should be in shape to have a successful research trip.

Cross-posted to craigearley.com