The Methodology before Theory? The search for my Research Question!

This post is going to start with a story.  In 1993, as a newbie field archaeologist, I had as most do, a horrible time differentiating between soil or root stains and post holes.  I can’t tell you how many post holes I mangled, much to the dissatisfaction of my field supervisor.

Sweating every soil stain, I began to wonder if there was a way to visualize in 3D, what we assumed to be post holes to determine if they actually belonged to the archaeological landscape.  A sort of, post hole detection methodology.  More than that, it would give stakeholders an ability to visualize an actual structure as opposed to trying to explain to the client that these stains were important!

It was that frustration which drove me to understanding how to create 3D objects and eventually into a long career in the animation and VFX industry.  Part of that journey included Sheridan College, which I was extremely lucky to attend in the early 90’s at the beginning of the second wave of artistic talent and immense technology.

However, it was my very first job in the industry which has now framed my research methodology to build interactive, real-time 3D Longhouses.  Kim Davidson, an industry legend and founder of Toronto based Side Effects Software, an animation production software company, produced and continues to build upon a procedural animation tool set called Houdini.

In Houdini, any function, from model building to texture map making to compositing or animating can be done procedurally.  What this actually means is that every function has a node or parameter that is never locked and as such, can be reworked at any point in the creation of a model, animation or VFX shot.  All changes “ripple” down the nodal network allowing the user ultimate flexibility without having to recreate or trace their steps again.

Using this methodology, I can theoretically build a Longhouse App with total flexibility allowing for regional, cultural, societal, historical variables in Longhouse construction to be “mashed up”.  This technique can then free stakeholders of all types; archaeologists, descendent groups, researchers and the public to build and more importantly experiment with how Longhouses may have looked and uniquely how one can then interactively engage within that space, always refining based on the individuals own unique perspective.

Procedural Arc Research Tool

This theoretical procedural network simplistically outlines how we can start with a basic field survey of post holes and “build” or more precisely “rebuild” one of multiple variations of Longhouses based on any infinite amount of parameters.

Prototypes for visualizing and manipulating 3D Longhouses constructed from site maps have already proven successful and the next stage will be deployment against a set of research questions.

One such question comes from the Droulers site on the boarder of Quebec and Ontario.  Claude Chapdelaine from the University of Montreal has been researching the site for many years.  The archaeological landscape has yielded some interesting questions regarding Longhouse construction, in particular, how massive structures could be built in and on totally rocky/stoney terrain.

Essentially, there are no soil stains to determine “what” the Longhouses might have looked like.  There are however hearths that have been discovered.  So, is it possible to 3D visualize the dimensions of the Longhouses through hearth positioning only?  The archaeological landscape will quite literally guide and frame my research.

It’s important to note that I’m not simply attempting to reconstruct Longhouses in 3D.  I’m attempting to provide the tools necessary to allow non-archaeologists and archaeologists alike to play with the historical and current data in visual 3D form.  I also hope this technique can be done in both real-time and in stereoscopic 3D, by providing a virtual interface for users to not only build in 3D space but be immersed within it.

As always, any thoughts, opinions, leads to other research or examples of other sites are greatly appreciated!


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