Longhouse 2.5

Longhouse 2.5 came about during a long conversation with Ron Williamson from ASI.  Ron had been very generous with his time to discuss some of the issues of longhouse archaeology, the theories and methodologies for data acquisition as well as some of the personal experiences in building longhouse reconstructions.  As is his supportive nature, Ron provided me with a set of architectural drafts he had commissioned a few years back.  It had been a modern architectural interpretation of how a longhouse might have been built using modern tools but with a mix of current and traditional building materials.

Plan 1sm

The drawing represented an excellent interpretation of the archaeological data from a structural perspective.  It also blended at that time, more simplistic building code requirements which has now become the bane of current attempted longhouse reconstruction projects (see Crawford Lake Longhouse Village – personal communication with Conservation Halton Staff).

Plan 2sm

I wanted to get an understanding of 3D building techniques from an architecturally trained specialist.  Jamie Kwan, a recent Architecture graduate from Ryerson University and a current Master in Digital Media student agreed to take on the challenge. Using the plans provided, Jamie reinterpreted the material within Rhino3D, a robust but very simple to use modeling package.


As in real-life construction, the 3D material also has a nature of its own. Jamie encountered some of the same questions we had been chewing over since starting with Longhouse 1.0.  Placement of the inner and outer support posts, spacing, bench attachments and smoke hole positioning to name a few.


The difficulty in modeling the curvature in the roof has also been discussed in length by Wright, Kapches and Snow, which is also apparent in how we interpret in 3D virtual space as well. Immediately when the 2D plans were visualized in 3D, questions began popping up with regards to how our final longhouse project would be interpreted.


However, the low resolution shaded rendering does allow the viewer to experience the potential expansiveness of this modern interpretation of a traditional longhouse.  One can also start to envision populating the space with potential cultural material, textures, surfaces, atmospherics and light.

The interpretation of an “h” framing methodology also has given rise to look for support posts in the archaeological record, immediately along the outer walls when excavating longhouses and/or reviewing existing data sets.  Overall, Jamie and Ron’s original plans provided a unique opportunity to start to tackle longhouses construction methodologies from an modern architectural design perspective.

Longhouse 2.2

Longhouse 2.2 became a watershed moment during our research primarily due to two seemly inconsequential decisions; a port of the 3D assets to the Unreal game engine and a chance tour of local High School students.

The purpose of the Loyalist College Animation students time at the SA was to help develop a pipeline for the mass scanning of 3D artifacts (see Longhouse 2.0).  However, as the co-op students were winding down on their 2 week pre-training project building and rendering a 3D longhouse, there was a delay in the delivery of the 3D scanning equipment.  A decision was made to keep the students further enhancing their skills until the scanning technology was available, by attempting to port the longhouse test assets over to a Unreal game engine to see if the interactivity between player and environment would work out.   At his time the students decided to include both the new section of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology and Sustainable Archaeology with the actual Lawson archaeological site.

Lawson Site Map

They took the original excavation map and started positioning the 3D test longhouses within a palisaded environment.  Although the physical reconstruction of Lawson site on the grounds of the excavation environment was semi-accurate in terms of the front palisade, there was only one fully reconstructed but severely deteriorating longhouse.  Thus, the students needed to map out how many longhouses they would represent digitally and the actual palisade sequencing if there was to be any interaction for the users.


Once a rough plan was drawn up, the Unreal gaming environment was then populated with longhouse and accessory assets.  The virtual palisade was copied from the existing one and enhanced to what the Museum thought represented an expanded site.  Atmospherics, additional assets, land and sky proxies were added to give it a full and all encompassing environment.  To also combine their 3D scanning outcomes, virtual activity stations were built and when activated, would inform the player of the material or social importance of the space or artifact.  With the test successfully ported over to a gaming environment, the students began their research began on their 3D scanning testing.  Although inaccurate in many ways archaeologically, it did provide an interesting approach to non-scientific visualization.

The real “magic” happened after the game was completed.  During a random local High School class visit to the Museum of Ontario Archaeology and Sustainable Archaeology, Namir Ahmed the project lead was explaining the work the animation unit was doing.  Of course the class wanted to test out the game and so most of the excitement grew around the interactivity within an environment in which all of the High School students were not only accustomed to, but was also the first generation to have been born completely exposed to digital technology.  The “a-ha” moment came when the students, after playing the video game, attempted to relive the same virtual experience outside in the partially reconstructed palisade and single longhouse!  At that moment did we realize that the research was not about accurately reconstructing longhouses, but connecting stakeholders to the archaeological landscape through real-time, virtual, phenomenological experience.

Longhouse 2.1

Longhouse 2.1 was originally intended as a preliminary introduction to our 10 Loyalist College Animation interns to basic archaeological research and visualization of archaeological material.  As Sustainable Archaeology is located directly within the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, the students had direct exposure to the partially reconstructed Lawson Neutral Iroquoian Longhouse Village.

picture of longhouse

Additionally they were within driving distance to the Ska-Nah-Doht Village & Museum, a reconstructed Early Iroquoian Longhouse Village site which provided an excellent example of different architectural styles as well as interpretive visions.


The students had the opportunity to physically experience the reconstructed spaces, understand the materials used in the reconstruction and get a sense of the sound, light and atmospherics produced in such a building.


Following traditional Film & TV methodology, the students used these physical references and the archaeological data from the Lawson site to start envisioning what a 3D representation of a Longhouse would look like.


In representing what essentially was a reinterpretation of the archaeological data, the risk of this process is that there are multiple voices and competing visions as each artist, from the initial physical longhouse construction to the reimagined 3D representation is being played out visually.


Yet an opportunity exists that the assets, what we like to call them in 3D lingo, are easily moved, reconfigured or even reinterpreted allowing for a more user centric approach.  Even in the two artists renderings above, little details like the direction of the support slats on the bench seating are different, each representing a different interpretation of the physical reconstruction of the longhouses visited.  Within 3D space, these tests can be played out with little effort, thus representing an opportunity for public stakeholders to engage with the archaeological record through their own perceptions.

Additional 3D models were made to represent the typical material potentially in daily use within and around a longhouse.  These assets then become props within the greater phenomenological experience, however through 3D scanning artifacts from the actual archaeological landscape can now inhabit the virtual archaeological landscape as well.


Construction on the virtual longhouse became an interpretation of the existing physical reconstructed houses, the visual historical material and some archaeological data.  Again, the purpose was not to accurately recreate a longhouse per se, but to see what process these trained animators would use to reconstructed a longhouse within the 3D space.


As the models began to materialize, the students started asking the same questions posed by Wright, Kapches and Snow.  Additionally, the challenges to model the objects in 3D also determine the visual outcomes or interpretation of the subject matter in question.


Modeling within 3D space sometimes lacks the randomness that real life constantly provides.  Assets are replicated, such as the cedar shingles in the image above and thus, the interpretation looses some of the key features we would assume to be present in a typical longhouse construction.


The final product, although representative of the subject matter, is in essence a copy of a copy.


This was a wonderful initial first run for the students and the archaeologists alike.  It provide a unique opportunity for the SA to see the production process from a traditional 3D animation methodology and it initiated the very same questions archaeologists would ask themselves when visualizing the archaeological record.  It also provided a jumping off spot to explore the necessity of having real-time, user defined and engaged content delivery systems.

The exercise provide the assets needed to continue the development process.  In Longhouse 2.2, we move into the real-time, user discovery environment.  It also represents a major pivot towards a sustainable and interactive approach to 3D visualization of archaeological material.

Longhouse 2.0

Longhouse 2.0 started as a joint project between Dr. Neal Ferris at Sustainable Archaeology (SA) and theskonkworks (SKW) to explore the possibilities of developing a mass scanning pipeline for 3D artifacts in the summer of 2012.  Working with Namir Ahmed, a Master’s student in Archaeology at UWO and someone with previous animation and archaeology expertise, this project was one of the first MITACS granted research initiatives to combine industry and archaeological research needs.  The project was two fold in its application; to work with animation students who understood the technology but not the content and to use existing Film & Television techniques to develop a mass scanning pipeline.

SAScanTeamThe project recruited 10 Loyalist College Animation Program Co-Op students to intern at Sustainable Archaeology for a 14 week period.  The students were all in their last year of studies and as such had a good working knowledge of 3D animation techniques, tools and basic pipelines.  SA provided the equipment which consisted of several variants of professional 3D scanners and SKW provide production management, pipeline expertise and 3D animation equipment and software.

The research team proved to be highly successful in not only being able to demonstrate that Archaeologists and Animators could effectively and quickly work together on very complex systems and data, but that the SA facility when properly provisioned, could easily scan over 100 artifacts per week.  The pipeline itself consisted of developing protocols for tools specific to the artifacts sizes, complexity and surface quality as well a the practical application of data acquisition, lighting, mesh integration and texture mapping.  3D3 solutions, a technology supplier, produced a case study which outlined the process (case-study-SAAU-3D3Solutions-final).


This study proved to be quite valuable in understanding the scanning needs of artifacts and how to both manage the data and the expectations and limitations of the technology.  Our research also spawned a paper for World Archaeology entitled Sustainable archaeology through progressive assembly 3D digitization. However, prior to starting our 3D scanning pipeline research, the students started warming up with an ancillary project in which they would apply standard Film & TV development techniques to replicated a longhouse in rendered 3D space, which became the start of the phenomenological gaming research into user engagement within extant archaeological landscapes.  Thus Longhouse 2.1 began as an exercise to engage the students within the archaeological record.