Longhouse 3.5.9

It has been a bit since my last post.  In that time I have been writing my dissertation and conducting interviews on how archaeologists react to immersive and non-immersive representations of virtual archaeological data. It’s been a year since we started Lh3.x and in that time technology as always has eclipsed the originally intended platform. Lh3.x was built using Autodesk Maya built assets imported into Unity 4.5-5 and then with some additional modelling and texture mapping changes within Unity. A year ago the only immersive virtual platform we felt could handle the complexity and detail of the (re)imagined data was the Oculus Rift DK2.

dk2However as the assets came together in Unity towards February, I noticed that there was considerable issues with frame rate latency within the DK2. A substantial portion of people are unable to use VR headgear due to the frame rate issues, including myself.  If I spent more than 2min’s with the DK2 on, I felt immediately sick. So I was stuck with developing an environment in which I was unable to participate and quite possibly could cause others issues as well. At the time however, Google Cardboard would have been unsuitable for the level of detail we were attempting and the HTCVive still hadn’t arrived, so it was decided to continue along a DK2 path. We did try to acquire the commercial release of the Oculus Rift early, but were unsuccessful.

htcviveSustainable Archaeology (SA) had early access to the new HTCVive and although the original Lh3.x wasn’t built for the HTCVive platform, Colin Creamer from the SA started hacking an HTCVive version of Lh3.x.  Even with the hack, it was clear that the new technology was far superior to what the DK2 was providing. Having a discussion with Craig Barr, who was the key technical partner on this project, it was decided that we would attempt to convert the OR Unity version of Lh3.x into an HTCVive version.  Craig had his own HTCVive system so he was able to rapidly test what worked and what didn’t. The conversion was not easy, but Craig was able to port a large portion of what we had in the OR Unity version over to the HTCVive environment. The Vive consists of a headset, two hand controllers and two motion sensors. The DK2 requires a single motion sensor (to detect head movement) and an XBox game controller to allow for movement within the virtual space.

The HTCVive required a more powerful graphics card and processor to run.  For my interviews, we have been using a Alienware Aurora5 with an Nvidia 970 graphics card. From a cost perspective, the combination of the HTCVive and the AW Aurora 5 is roughly $5K CDN, so very cost prohibitive and very difficult to deploy to larger crowds. Unlike the AW Laptop and DK2 setup we used previously, the HTCVive also required more time and equipment to setup.


As you can see, just to setup the environment, I needed to bring along the AW Aurora, monitor, light stands for the motion sensors and the HTCVive itself.  In the classic “back of the trunk” shot of archaeological equipment going out on a dig, the image below is representative of my trip over to ASI to conduct the first setup and interviews.


Just getting the equipment into the demonstration space, whether across town or in the lab, was still time consuming. Ideally, one should have at least two people to move equipment around, however the HTCVive digital calibration is easily done with one individual. Physically setting up and digitally calibrating the equipment took about 45min’s. The HTCVive requires to two sensors elevated above head height. Unlike the OR DK2, the HTCVive uses the physical space in order to allow users to physically walk while in the digital environment. Kudos to HTC for making the Vive digital calibration and tracking setup so easy! Whether you choose limited space or “map out” your usable space, both setup procedures are easy and quick.


If you would like more information on how to setup the HTCVive, please consult the Steam website. Once the physical space has been mapped digitally, the user then puts the headset on and can use the hand controllers to navigate within the virtual desktop space and then if controls are provided within an application, be able to affect objects or the environment within the simulation.  In our case, Craig provided a “teleporting” tool to allow users to move from section of the digital environment to another when their physical space ran out.  By “teleporting” this then allows users to explore throughout the environment and not just the space determined by the room-scale setup.

The difference between the HTCVive and the Oculus Rift is that with the HTCVive you are actually engaged physically within the digital environment.  When you walk physically, you are walking within the virtual environment.  If you want to pick something up with the controllers (your digital hands), that action must be programmed into the game engine. The OR is similar but you are either stationary standing or sitting and using a game controller to walk within digital space and/or pick up items, which functionality also needs to be programmed. I’m hesitant to use the term “immersive” however, between the two platforms the HTCVive is a highly physically interactive toolset which can convey immersive like qualities.


Once the head mounted display is on and the virtual environment is activated, users can interact with the environment in the same manner as they would within the physical environment.  Again however, to pick items up or to affect change within the digital space, these actions have to be programmed.  The monitor is primarily used for the non HTCVive participants to interact with the user and see what the user is experiencing. This interaction proved very useful when discussing features that where representative in the virtual space with the user and myself.

In Longhouse 4.0, I will be going into depth on the interviews conducted with archaeologists and heritage professionals as they use the immersive and non-immersive longhouse experiences. Some of the key take-aways from the interview process have been; a) users want to interact with the environment and are somewhat constrained to being a passive participant (the Oculus Story Studio has called this the Swayze Effect, where you can be within the environment but cannon effect change) b) that users would prefer immersive experiences over highly detailed and photorealistic desktop interactions c) that there is a technological fetish for innovative tools and users have to go through this stage first before gaining insight into knowledge construction within virtual space.

Stay tuned for the next blog but if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to post them here!





Longhouse 3.5.8

Power, Authority and the Virtual Image!

This eight-month journey has been an exploration of virtual archaeology through research, production and knowledge mobilization. As Ingold would point out, both virtually and theoretically we have made course corrections or wayfaring points (2011) throughout the process that have been reflective of cultural historical norms, technological advances, production sensibilities and participant engagement. In making this environment, the materials and the materiality (Ingold 2011) of both the physical and the virtual space has informed and on more than one occasion, dictated the decisions that have accumulated in creating this final virtual representation of archaeological meaning-making. Although this is the final part of this project, it is only the beginning for the continued exploration of power, authority and the virtual image!

The project is bookended by Paul Reilly’s 1991 paper; Towards a Virtual Archaeology which I read in 1992 and which inspired me to attend computer animation school and Dawson, Levy and Lyons’s 2011 paper, Breaking the 4th Wall, which solidified the approach I chose to examine for my PhD research on power, authority, authenticity and phenomenology in virtual reality.

In 2011 virtual reality was still grounded with the notion that large, physical, very expensive, immersive domes, as the only viable option for an authentic experiential virtual experience. My own predilection based on years of being in the animation business was a more cinematographic film-like approach. However in the summer of 2012 a chance opportunity to port our initial 3D longhouse assets into an Unreal game engine and another change opportunity to have a group of High School students play with the test game environment (see Longhouse 2.2) convinced me that building and deploying our longhouse research within a gaming environment was the ideal deployment strategy. It would not only enhance the phenomenological virtual experience, but would be on a platform technology that most archaeologists and non-archaeologists would be comfortable in using with little or no training. It also provided an opportunity to democratize the research in an easy deployable manner.  The rendering above is an example of how a participant viewer would engage the virtual experience in Oculus Rift or through normal projection within the virtual environment. The assets were first built in Autodesk Maya along with any additional objects or environment texture maps. These assets were then ported into Unity5 and assembled into a 3D representative environment where basic interaction controls such as walking, head movement, jump, crouch, and direction were added. In addition, Unity5 provided the ability to add additional environmetrics such as smoke, dust, water, fire, localized sound and most importantly, interactive lighting.

Informed by public project blog participants some immediate modelling and texture map changes where made to better represent their perceived vision of longhouse architecture, use and asset placement. Adjustments were made within Unity5 on some elements with the reduction of texture maps and modelled objects for lower resolution to increase user interaction. Some animated visual effects such as smoke, were reduced to their simplest forms to give the impression of the effect without loosing screen refresh speed. Environmental elements such as the land, trees and sky again were chosen to provide the best visual possible with the less impact on interactivity.

These negotiated decisions where dictated by the ability of the technology to handle overly complex models and realistic textures, the availability of known archaeological or cultural historical data and the artistic skill set of our team. To initiate the actual 3D build, we immersed ourselves in the cultural historical material hoping to faithfully reproduce the oral, written, visual or archaeological data provided. It was clear that the notion of an authentic representation was far less important than providing a phenomenological experience in which the concept of presence (Dawson, Levy & Lyons 2011) or a visual impression of the cultural historical data could be explored. Further with the stylized nature of the real-time visual rendering of Unity5, forced us to accept that photo-real rendering did not have to be representative of an authentic virtual archaeological experience.

What did become apparent was the power that our team had in terms of presenting an alternative view of longhouse construction and visualization. Working within the 3D toolkit continues to be a specialist endeavour. Both Craig and I were trained in computer animation; myself at Sheridan College’s prestigious Computer Animation program and Craig at Centennial College’s program in the early 1990’s and having over 20 years experience in 3D film, television and gaming production has given us a distinct advantage from both a production and technology perspective from our other virtual archaeology colleagues. Our roles were separated between content specialist (myself) and artistic/technical specialist (Craig). However the distinct advantage we had was our common knowledge and communication of the production process. It allowed a quicker approach to producing real assets faster and pivoting at greater intensity when changes were required. This isn’t to say the same rapport hasn’t played out with other virtual heritage projects, just that our combined computer animation experience provided a more fluid production style in which the archaeological context could become centre stage instead of the technology.LH15 The power was further enhanced by my ability to pick and choose the cultural historical data I wanted to represent and test. For instance, Dean Snow wrote convincingly of the potential lower bunk height within Iroquois longhouses (1997). I chose to take his interpretation and that of the potential use of bark shingles for the delineation of interior spaces within longhouses (Snow 1997) and combine it with Mima Kapches notion of a bent arbour construction methodology (1994) (see Longhouse 1.5). I then used JV Wright’s notion of wood types and material use to develop our (re)imagination of an Iroquoian longhouse. What has resulted is a “mashup” of cultural historical opinions that I hope in the future to provide researchers with the ability to pick and choose in 3D and real-time for themselves (see Longhouse 1.5). Our funders, Sustainable Archaeology and ASI, were consulted when data was unavailable and both Neal Ferris and Ron Williamson’s years of practical knowledge helped to inform how certain elements should or could be represented visually.

As Craig and I worked remotely, all of our communication was through email, SKYPE or when necessary, by telephone. We met for lunch at the beginning to “kick off” the project and only really connected in person when we tested the prototype Longhouse 3.5.5 at the Heritage Toronto event almost 5 months later. Production was really dictated by Craig’s availability, which in hindsight proved to be beneficial in allowing longer reflective time spans between revisions. Participant viewers were given the chance to reflect and respond to the direction and decisions I was making through the blog or personal communication, which then gave me the opportunity to better inform the revision process with Craig. Craig also played an important role throughout the project in raising concerns, observations and making alternative suggestions to the data and the direction we were taking, which is typical of a normal digital media production process.
LH2We chose to establish to frame the initial visual experience when the game begins as a traditional mid-ground establishing perspective shot. I wanted users to take in the surrounding environment before exploring the interior of the longhouse. Based on discussions with Neal Ferris on the archaeological data regarding positioning of individual longhouses outside of palisaded villages, our longhouse was then situated about 300ft from the unseen/modeled village’s palisade wall in the background. A river was added to simulate a typical reliance on readily available water for daily use and strategic transportation needs. Mixed Ontario tree growth was represented in the vegetation added within the environment and an enhanced ground texture map suggests wear patterns through daily activities. Suggestive cooking and food drying models help to visually ground the longhouse itself in the scene as supportive object props and exploration areas. Lastly, to ensure users would concentrate on exploring the longhouse, we set software enabled boundaries along the river, palisade and tree lines to stop random exploration within the broader virtual environment.LH12 Added visual features to the longhouse included smoke simulations from the roof holes, mossy like wooded shingles and an external support skeleton as suggested by Dean Snow through personal communications. Due to real-time interactivity restrictions, I chose to not add skin or bark door “curtains” to either entrance to the longhouse as cloth simulations would have taken a considerable amount of computing complexity to replicate realistically. It should also be noted that Bill Engelbrecht had spoken about the possible use of lower door heights as a defensive measure in Iroquois longhouse construction, but that one slipped our revisions list. In the future we would likely add both a curtain and a lower door height for increased interactivity.LH5 Entering into the longhouse through the river facing front end, there is the immediacy of the storage vestibule. Cultural historical information has been limited as to the size, quantity and variety of objects that might have been stored in this area, so 3D replicated birch baskets and barrels were used to denote the storage of food stuffs. Curing or storage of rope, tobacco and meats from the rafters might have been utilized in this space so those representative objects were also added. As I chose to follow Snow’s interpretation of the existence of an inner cedar wall, the vestibule tends to have dark lighting as the only simulated sources of light are coming from the internal fire hearths and the external environment. Lastly, the construction of the virtual vestibule itself is highly improbable from a physical construction methodology, but it was the best guess at the time. Clearly this is an area of additional research that needs to be addressed.LH7Continuing into the main longhouse interior, some of the main features I wanted to emphasize was the potential individual bunking system, hearth placements and the layer of smoke that would have inhabited the upper recesses of a constantly active longhouse. As Ron Williamson and his fellow researchers experienced in their 1979 experimental archaeology longhouse stay, constant internal hearth fires and external weather conditions would have kept a substantial amount of smoke within the upper rafters. Interactive smoke proved to be too computationally heavy for real-time interactive play, so a less interactive layer of smoke was used for suggestive purposes.LH10Huge efforts were made to ensure there was a feeling of the dirt and grime build up that normal communal living would have produced. Although not readily seen in the rendered version above, finger prints were added to the surfaces of the poles and posts to denote typical grab points in the bunking systems. We also stripped the poles to their wood surface to suggest that the bark, which was a major construction and utility resource, would have been immediately harvested during construction. Additional dirt splatter was added to the poles that where placed into the ground and creosote textures added to the rafters and tops of the internal roofing systems. The floors were also modelled and textured to represent a dirt surface along with wear patterns in the normal traffic spots.LH6 3D modeled objects of actual Iroquoian pottery from the Lawson Museum’s collection were added throughout the space. These objects were lower resolution versions of actual 3D scans conducted at Sustainable Archaeology and are representative of the 15th century northern Iroquoian pottery styles. Additional pots, baskets and wooden utensils were modelled from suggestive modern reproductions of Iroquoian goods. Reed mats, furs and cedar bough bedding and storage of wood and other items under the bunks are suggestive and as with all of the material inhabiting the virtual space, meant to be points for discussion rather than de facto representations of authenticity.

The fire hearths were very important to represent effectively as they would have played a major part in the daily lives of the longhouse inhabitants. In one of the hearths, a pot with boiling liquid is active and everything from the burning wood texture maps, to the representation of ash was considered. The addition of the sound of burning wood was added along with the occasional flying ember and smoke streams to create a phenomenological effect.LH9Curing food, drying cordage was also added to the rafters for effect, but in my estimation is likely far less that what have really been stored in the upper sections of the longhouse. Again this was primarily due to the computational issues of representing a substantial amount of detail within a real-time game engine.

A substantial amount of time was spent trying to be informed by whatever cultural historical data we could find. At times a negotiated process occurred where we wanted to visually suggest a detail or feature but really had no description to go with. This mirrored the internal issues of the reality of Iroquoian longhouse archaeology; nobody really knows anything more about longhouses construction or use other than the post-hole stains that survive in the archaeological record.

The use of a gaming medium has greatly improved our research capability. It democratizes the research material, provides a unique opportunity to interact with a virtual environment and provides a real-time engine that can be retuned for a variety of hardware applications. Although in our study the use of the game engine has been strictly for the ability to freely explore the archaeological environment, it doesn’t have any real interactive game play. The next phase would be to determine what if any interactivity should be implemented. Further discussion between stylistic and photorealistic rendering needs to be fully researched especially in terms of perceived authenticity, but I feel this initial visualization provides a perfect launching pad for further investigation.

Does this visual (re)imagination inform archaeological research? This is our next phase of the research! To determine the validity of virtual archaeology as a means of knowledge mobilization where there is a pre-existing mental image and perceived meaning of the archaeological material. Can virtual reality allow for the exchange of ideas, the remodelling of perceived meaning-making or even just to inform the possibility of new perspectives? Over the next few months, trial sessions using Oculus Rift and screen based play will occur with archaeologists and heritage professionals. The actual Longhouse 3.x Unity 5 game module will be made public but through the auspices of Sustainable Archaeology as our commitment to open source research, immediately following our interview program.

I want to thank Craig Barr for his dedication, artistic and technical skill in delivering my interpretation of northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use. Further to our funders, Sustainable Archaeology, ASI and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology for their support. Lastly to the public and private contributors who helped inform this research and provided encouragement and support.

Continue to monitor this production website for updates as we move into the next phase of research. As always, feel free to leave comments to this blog or contact me directly on anything you feel we could have done differently.





Dawson, P., R. Levy, and N. Lyons
2011 “Breaking the Fourth Wall”: 3D Virtual Worlds as Tools for Knowledge Repatriation in Archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology 11(3): 387–402.

Ingold, Tim
2011 Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Taylor & Francis.

Kapches, M.
1994 The Iroquoian longhouse architectural and cultural identity. Meaningful Architecture: Social Interpretations of Buildings, 9, 253.

Reilly, P.
1991 Towards a Virtual Archaeology. CAA90. Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology 1990: 132–139. http://caaconference.org/proceedings/paper/21_reilly_caa_1990/.

Snow, Dean
1997 The Architecture of Iroquois Longhouses.Northeast Anthropology 53: 61-84.

Williamson, Ronald F.
2009 Longhouse Heating Experiment Ska-Nah-Doht Village, Longwoods Conservation Authority (1979). Toronto.

Wright, J.V.
1995 Three dimensional reconstructions of Iroquoian longhouses: A comment. Archaeology of Eastern North America, 9-21.


Longhouse 3.5.7

Today’s post is really a brain dump of the last four weeks of virtual archaeology theoretical reading I’ve been doing and the practical application of the Lh3.x project.

The project itself is going along swimmingly but into the tough phase of honing down the assets so users can run through the experience in real time and with a variety of machine speeds.  Although “polygon count” is always an issue with producing 3D assets for gaming, the focus has been on providing a higher level of authenticity to the overall virtual experience.  In retrospect we probably added too much cultural historical detail, which has slowed real time play down considerably.  Texture maps also pose a problem as the more complex and higher resolution they are, the more memory (like the 3D models) that has to be cached.  Thus, there has been the painful decision to reduce the visual quality or to take certain asset features out in order to retain a high level of interactive play.  In doing so, we are altering one set of experiences in order for another to take greater presence within the virtual environment.

However, this wasn’t the negotiated process I had hoped for when we started out.  Ideally I wanted to challenge the notion that virtual archaeology was just a smokescreen for non-archaeologists to make “pretty pictures”.  That the project would be evidence based and reflective of a strong scientific methodology. Working with the material however, whether virtual or not, alters your perception of what the term accurate or evidence based really means.  Tim Ingold’s book Being Alive, which I’ve just recently reread (and if you are interested, here is reprint of a theory paper I wrote on Wayfaring in virtual space), stresses the material over the materiality of things (2011).  The material shapes our way of knowing and in the process of working the material we gain insight into all of the artistic, technical and cultural factors involved in the cultural object being created.  However, the material’s properties, may it be wood, clay or 3D polygons, still trumps all cultural intentions that have gone into the creation of it. Eventually the material will once again dominate the materiality of the object in question and as in Iroquoian longhouses, will return it from the environment in which it came.

I’ve been mindful not to use the words accurate or authentic as the project has progressed.  Archaeologists make meaning from the artifacts, landscapes and environments they study.  In doing so they are creating their own interpretations of what the cultural material means, drawing upon personal knowledge creation, other stakeholder knowledge and opinions from experts such as Historians, Anthropologists and content specific Archaeologists.  In essence we’re creating a narrative, which is one of many narratives that can be developed when looking at a potsherd, buried viking hoards or longhouse postmold stains.  Readily I admit that I haven’t reached out to Decedent stakeholders, experimental archaeologists or other non-Iroquoian built heritage specialists to garner opinion or guidance.  I wanted this process to be my interpretation of the archaeological record, oral and written histories.  But as you work with the material more, coming across technical, creative or research material limitations there is a negotiated process that kicks in, forcing you to make tough decisions that takes you further away from that well intentioned goal in which these stakeholders might help support.

Ingold considers these “course corrections” as part of the symbiotic relationship between the practitioner, tool and material (2011).  Each movement whether deliberate or not, is part of the larger holistic process of creating and is thus valid from a theoretical perspective.  In essence my struggles as both an artist and a researcher is part and parcel of larger narrative that Ingold speaks of and that our virtual longhouse embodies.

Lately I have been having difficulty as an artist choosing between the two types of visual experiences that this project has created. On the one hand, the virtual real time experience of a gaming environment allows for those phenomenological experiences to play out more readily.  On the other, the still or sequenced, highly manicured rendered photorealistic images still dominates as being desirable representation of elusive “fact”.


On the left in the image above is a screen grab of Lh3.x within the Unity game engine.  On the right is a high resolution and rendered version of the 3D assets.  The rendering on the right has lighting that is obviously more effective and the textures are more vibrant.  You can almost imagine being right in a real-life environment.  Whereas the game quality version, clearly sets up our expectation that this experience will be representative but not quite realistic.

Tom Frankland suggests that our perception of photo-realistic reconstructions carries with it a false sense that the image generated is authentic and because of its perceived authenticity, it is accepted psychologically as fact by those viewing it (2010). He goes on to comment that non-photorealistic rendering (NPR), like the image on the left, might actually enhance our ability to accept different modes of interpretation and meaning-making because it frees us from the notion that what we are looking at is “fact” (Frankland 2010).  Ultimately however archaeologist must take caution in the visualization approach they use and I would argue the transparent paradata they provide, so that (re)imagined visualizations aren’t perceived as sacrosanct truth.

Although the entrenched tradition of archaeological illustrations, specifically through field notes, has altered little since antiquity scholars began their renaissance studies, virtual reality puts a unique spin on presenting visual data and individual opinions in a very authoritative and authentic way (Perry 2015). In doing so, by taking a creative approach to the interpretation of the archaeological data, the agency of that data is now layered upon and seen through the creators lens; what “artist’s impression” intend the virtual space to convey (see Earl 2013; Frankland and Earl 2011; Frischer et al. 2000; Moser and Smiles 2008; Perry 2015).  Essentially what I and Craig represent virtually in Lh3.x is artistic narrative building, but grounded within initial archaeological data which in no measure should be considered archaeological “fact”.

In the next Longhouse 3.5.8, I’m going to talk about our issues of populating the virtual space with material culture that is somewhat representative of the era and culture we are dealing with.  In the scene below we used 3D modelled cured ham legs to give the example of drying meat, but a nudge about Experimental Archaeology from Bill Engelbrecht and a chance discussion with Archaeologist Martin Lominy from Aboriginal technologies provided a unique perspective on how the 15th Century Northern Iroquoians might have dealt with such issues as drying meat and how we might represent that visually.





Works Cited:

Frankland, T.J.
2010   A CG artist’s impression: depicting virtual reconstructions using non-photorealistic rendering techniques. In Thinking Beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process., edited by Angeliki Chrysanthi, Patricia Murrieta-Flores, and Constantinos Papadopoulos. Archaeopress, Oxford, UK, November 11.

Frankland, Tom, and Graeme Earl
2011   Authority and authenticity in future archaeological visualisation. Original Citation: 62.

Frischer, Bernard, Franco Niccolucci, Nick Ryan, and Juan Barceló
2000   From CVR to CVRO: The Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality. VAST Conference on Virtual reality, Archeology, and Cultural Heritage, Arezzo, Italy.(November): 1–12.

Huggett, J.
2012   What lies beneath: lifting the lid on archaeological computing. In Thinking Beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process, edited by A. Chrysanthi, P. Murrietta, Flores, and C. Papadopoulos, pp. 204–214. Archeopress.

Ingold, Tim
2011   Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Taylor & Francis.

Moser, Stephanie, and Sam Smiles
2008   Introduction: The Image in Question. In Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image, pp. 1–12. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

Perry, Sara
2015   Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology. In Material Evidence. Learning from archaeological practice., edited by R. Chapman and A. Wylie, pp. 189–210. Routledge, New York and London.


Longhouse 3.5.6

Sorry for the delay over the last couple of weeks.  Craig and I were busy with the wonderful 1.0 version of Ryerson University’s B3D Design Conference two Friday’s ago and we’ve both been catching up since the Heritage Toronto event.  B3D proved to be an enlightening set of broad based discussions ranging from Virtual Reality to 3D Printing, however I was really impressed with both the awareness and promotion of virtual archaeology and heritage management.  Very refreshing to see that non-archaeologists/heritage professionals were also valuing the effort and research being engaged around digital visualization and preservation.

From left to right: Michael Carter, Craig Barr, Athomas Goldberg and Dr. Andrew Nelson

Our session with Athomas Goldberg, Dr. Andrew Nelson and Craig Barr opened up the conference.  Craig  and I were lucky to be able to present one after the other, so that gave me time to talk about the main theoretical themes of the London Charter; Agency, Authority, Authenticity and Transparency as it applied to our project and the larger considerations for visualization of heritage objects.  This helped to frame further discussions during the day when we got into 3D printing and visual representation.  Athomas, who has been very active on the gaming engine scene for over 18 years presented some of the real-time interactive work he did for the “Shattered Adam“/Lombardo’s “Adam”exhibition at the MET.  Andrew talked about his extensive research into the use of 3D scanning of Mummy’s and other recent fine detailed objects.  The notion of “agency” loomed big over our discussion with the audience and the “authenticity” of the 3D scans.  Overall, the session proved as a great starting point for future research as public appetite for 3D visualization and printing has become voracious as of late.

During the conference I had been thinking of Paul Reilly, the “father of virtual archaeology”, and his latest work entitled Additive Archaeology: An Alternative Framework for Recontextualising Archaeological Entities.  Essentially he’s nailed it once again that 3D printing, like 3D visualization in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, will have a profound effect on how heritage is not only researched but preserved.  That our ability to understand the archaeological record through the use of additive manufacturing would extend not only research, but public engagement.

I’ve railed against our misguided notion that digital media will solve everything for years.  My students seemed bemused that I’ve spent so much of my career dealing with digital media, that I’m still harking back to the necessity to have some sort of physical material record for future generations, to discover and research.  The digital world disintegrates so there also needs to be a material copy in order to ensure a record of some sort.  Getting back to Paul’s paper, I realized while sitting through the B3D conference that our Longhouse 3.x would also need more than a digital representation.  Conference papers and book chapters, if deemed worthy research, is one way to enable some preservation.  However, should we also 3D print Longhouse 3.x so that a physical model of the research exists? If we print the model, is it an artefact?  If so, should it be housed within Sustainable Archaeology along with the other Southwestern Ontario archaeological material?  Is there a London Charter 3.0 in which we need to include 3D printing as a means to make physical, our virtual archaeology?

In an effort to remain transparent during all stages of the project, I have provided below my B3D presentation entitled Virtual Archaeology, Virtual Longhouses and “Envisioning the Unseen” within the Archaeological Record.  The audience at the conference was a broad mix of specialists and knowledge experts, so the presentation reflects this.  As discussed, Craig and I broke our presentation out into theory and methodology.


Many thanks to Claire van Nierop and Ron Williamson from ASI for providing the images I used in the slide deck below of various archaeological sites and excavation plans.  The iconic image of Indian Jones comes from Lucas Film/Paramount Pictures.  The images of Palmira comes from recent on-line news articles from various sources.  Finally, Think2Thing (T2T) provided the images of Craig and I speaking at the conference.

Good morning and welcome to the B3D Conference!
As much as we love adventure, this is not the reality of archaeology! However, Archaeology is all about the Narrative!
Unlike Indiana, real archaeologist work in a relatively quiet and substantially less exciting way looking for signs of material artifacts of human occupation. As this material is “discovered” there is a meticulous scientific recording of every detail from the type of soil it was found in to it’s colour, dimensions and it’s proximity and physical association with other artifacts. Those data points are combined with potential Oral and written histories, anthropological observations of other similar cultures and civilizations to build a narrative of meaning. Thus archaeologists make meaning by creating narratives based on the type of artifacts discovered, the environment in which they were found, similarities to other cultures and the scientific data collected.
One of those narrative pain points for Archaeologists studying pre-contact Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction in Canada, is that no structural elements remain in the archaeological record. Unlike the stone structures of Egypt, Greece or Europe, Iroquoian longhouses were made out of wood, which easily decomposes over time. What is left however are “soil stains” of where the wooden posts decomposed or burned within the ground. Locating post hole stains is a challenge, particularly when everything from modern tree roots to collapsed rodent burrows could and are misinterpreted as an actual Longhouse post position. But when we are able to “connect the dots”, a pattern emerges as to the type of structure that was once there. A sea of straws represent where a longhouse might have stood, yet it gives no impression of the magnitude or bearing of the structure itself.
In our particular case, visualizing beyond a 2D map or excavation drawing what a massive longhouse city looked like, or understanding anomalies within the archaeological record, are some of the challenges when dealing with structures that have eroded away throughout the centuries. What the archaeological material, longhouse outlines, pole positions, fire hearths, internal burials or hidden artifacts within the perimeter of these once grand cultural embodiments of community don’t convey is the vast immensity of the space these structures occupied or the phenomenological experience of living within one. Like detectives, we must piece together a narrative using the archaeological data. Oral and written histories, present only one of a multitude of interpretations. Longhouses were living, breathing embodiments of not only the close knit families that built and lived in them, but the community and culture as a whole. 3D visualization can bridge and inform archaeologists in ways a flat 2D representations, oral or written history cannot.
So, how do we transition from static 2D images, or no images at all to a fully immersed virtual environment? In 2008, a group of virtual archaeology researchers got together to develop what is now called “The London Charter”. In this charter, they laid out the theoretical foundations in which all heritage practitioners should use as best practices when visualizing heritage material. They are: Agency, Authority, Authenticity and Transparency. Agency – The Maori of New Zealand among many other cultural groups worldwide, believe that the spirit that embodies a cultural sacred object extends into photographs or even 3D renderings of that object. Thus when reimagining an artifact in physical or digital form, it’s presence or spirit extends into these new representations and are treated equally as one. Agency also denotes the underlying socio-cultural meaning of the object, place or landscape. Thus care should be taken equally when handling virtual or physical heritage. Authority is when a visualization is so hyper real that the viewer believes the visualization to be an accurate, objective, “historical truth”. Further, that the representation is viewed as a singular and only vision and not one of many possible alternatives. Authenticity is when a visualization is based on quantitative data and that data is used as a base to explore and expand beyond the initial data set. Transparency is ultimately the most important element in digital visualization of any historical object, place or landscape. Transparencies byproduct is called “Paradata”, which represents the steps the archaeologist, artists or the researcher took in determining how the visualization would look and why a particular decision was made, by acknowledging all of the elements that have influenced a particular vision. In following The London Charter, the field of archaeology embarked on visualizing a typical Iroquoian Longhouse, while making public through the means of social media, all of our decisions and rationale.
We wanted to reconstruct an Iroquoian Longhouse in virtual reality for a host of reasons. To test the current known data sets to see if what we were recording and researching from the archaeological record, oral and written histories could be representative of a longhouse might have looked like. We wanted to provide a knowledge dissemination process and platform, although primarily for archaeologists, that could be easily accessed by non-archaeologists as well. Further there are larger, very strategic considerations that I will speak about later that this research might help to address. In reconstructing our longhouse, we used years of previously published collected longhouse excavation data from hundreds of archaeological sites in Ontario. That provided a template of dimensions and measurements that could help us visually construct a typical Iroquoian longhouse in 3D. Every detail from the type of rope cordage used, to how the ends of the cut posts, poles and beams would look, and even if there would be hand prints on the poles themselves was discussed and researched through academic papers and the archaeological record. And those decisions, source materials and opinions were recorded on a weekly blog and shared to archaeologists and non-archaeologists through social media.
In Longhouse archaeology there are multiple theories of what and how a longhouse looked and was constructed. The models were created in such a way as to allow for experimental changes. We experimented with multiple building techniques and theories, eventually hacking one representative vision of what a Northern Iroquoian Longhouse might look like. What we attempted to do was play with the ability in 3D space to mix and match, creating hybrids through a multivocal lens. Along the way, each decision becomes a learning moment, raising more questions and observations. Thus as we continued building, recording and sharing, this virtual archaeology process transitioned from being evidenced based to evidence informed through a natural progression allowed by the evolution of technology and growth of capabilities, user experience and expectation.
The “a-ha” moment was that the virtual reconstruction process not only lent itself to the traditional archaeological narrative process, but created new narratives to explore and tease out. Although the end product was a fabulous 3D visualization of one interpretation of the archaeological material, the real bonus is the ability to for all stakeholders to engage with the archaeological data and material in a way unimaginable only a few years ago. The next phase is to give the participant in this virtual space a sense of “presence”. A phenomenological experience in which all senses from sight, sound, touch and eventually smell and taste are actively engaged. SO WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Archaeology and the artifacts, landscapes and environments today, may not always be around for generations to come. Virtual Reality is one way of preserving these cultural resources. And because of the nature of digital media, we can now share these virtual resources globally, allowing people to experience this precious resource visually, virtually and as we will see later today, physically.
However this is only one part of the story. To get to this stage, a partnership between research and technology, knowledge dissemination and artistic wizardry had to take place. This scientific visualization wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance and expertise of a 3D animation professional; my research partner Craig Barr. Before Craig comes on next to continue our story, I would like to quickly thank ASI and Sustainable Archaeology for graciously funding this project and Ryerson for the opportunity to tell you our story. Thank you.

Craig’s presentation took a technological bent, which included an animated visual walkthrough of the longhouse environment on slide 12, which you can see in Longhouse 3.5.5.


Craig provided a lively presentation on the uses of technology and how the Ocular Rift tool set allowed him to “site inspect” the 3D longhouse model in Maya before sending it over to me for approval.  It was yet another way in which the technology is allowing archaeologists to experience the process from a different perspective and inform how the material culture might be interpreted differently.

This discussion will focus more on the practical benefits, rather than on the technical aspects, of the tools available for real-time visualization.   Discuss the benefits of using real-time visualization
Research – A virtual experience can be changed or updated based on the latest findings from the field. Different theories or ideas can be experienced and tested rapidly.
Education – an immersive, interactive and effective tool for teaching, a VR application can be shared and experienced anywhere on the planet.
Archival/heritage – preservation, collection of data/knowledge. Experiencing data, research, history from anywhere. Access to all.
Cultural/Socio Impact – A virtual world provides the opportunity to experience a different time, a different place, an opportunity to experience a different culture. (see Edu: global-socio impact)
Craig spoke from memory.
Craig spoke from memory. Image is from the Heritage Toronto event.
Craig spoke from memory. Images from the Toronto Heritage event.
Michael talked about The London Charter and the 4 key aspects: Agency, Authority, Authenticity and Transparency (or Paradata). Here we look at some negatives to be considered in the Visualization process.
Discuss the potential negatives with 3D visualization: Artistic license Inaccuracies in environment/surroundings Providing a different “feel” or “theme” around the subject at hand Cost/investment
Virtual Reality provides an entirely world for the creative. Creative Benefits of VR/AR: allowing you to “EXPERIENCE” the design… Evidence Existence Intimacy Actuality VR allows for the discovery of “issues”. Longhouse examples: straps not tied, wood floating, texture issues….things not easily seen in 3D packages. Plug-in for Maya: mOculus.io
This is the animated sequence Longhouse 3.5.5.
Ironically, the caveats are the true key to understanding 3D Visualization’s place in the world. It’s easy to say that it must be clearly defined for what the outcome is to be, but that is the beauty of real-time visualization, the outcome can be deeply informative and surprising. It must be clearly defined what the purpose is. Personally, I’m all for artistic license, creative renderings, conceptual design. It’s my background and a big part of where I have come from. When it comes to visualization for research purposes, whether for scientific, engineering, or archaeological, accuracy to the point of existing knowledge is paramount.



I hope by providing the slide decks of our presentation that we can transparently demonstrate how the research is being discussed.  By now means is this work finished, but it provides a unique opportunity to see the progression in not only our own thinking, but how the material is also leading into new areas of thought.

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.





Longhouse 3.5.5

IMG_4566It’s been a whirlwind week here.  Craig, Jamie Kwan and I attended the Heritage Toronto Gala Tuesday night to roll out the first public viewing of Longhouse3.x.  Jamie was my graduate research assistant this year in the Master in Digital Media program here at Ryerson University, who used his architectural training to help visualize the modern interpretation of a 3D longhouse in Longhouse 2.5.  It proved to be a stellar night and full of surprises from a research perspective.  I want to thank Heritage Toronto for the opportunity to present our work and a special thanks to Claire van Nierop and Ron Williamson from ASI for inviting us to be part of their presentation.


Due to some last minute difficulties we had running the Ocular Rift DK2 on our Alienware Laptop, we switched to a monitor setup with XBox360 controllers for people to use for one station and Craig used his HP Laptop and OR DK2 for our virtual reality experience. Both interaction platforms were well received, but the OR obviously was the favourite choice among the 30+ or so people who participated.


We had a wide range of age, genders and Heritage professionals and enthusiasts try the VR experience.  A non scientific observation was that our female participants spent a considerable amount of time within the environment, experiencing and observing all of the aspects of the reimagined longhouse, while our male participants usually donned the VR for it’s “cool” factor and then ran around quickly without taking the time to notice all of the elements within the environment.  As we had older guests and also didn’t know who among our potential visitors might have ocular issues when putting on the headset, we chose to go with a seating position to ensure some stability for those who might encounter balance issues.  Headphones were used to focus the hearing into the virtual space (which was a combination of forest, water, animal and burning fire sounds based on where you were).  The controller was used to move the individual forward or backwards with the head movement dealing primarily with where you would look in VR space.  As one visitor observed, the OR DK2 naturally allowed the Heritage professionals to look up and around, as they would normally do.  One feature we didn’t have was a crouch command to allow people to inspect objects on the ground or below the standard height within the gaming environment.

The video loop above is our latest test of the longhouse within Unity5.  By staging the visualization of items in the longhouse with everyday domestic items such as food and cooking utensils, it started further discussions on potential placement and use of those items within the space.  Additional constraints involved the light and how it would effect shadows and highlights within what would really be a dark environment.  Lastly, Craig had added smoke from all of the fires, but we soon discovered that it really filled the entire space, especially at the 4-5ft level with a dense fog which made it difficult to see the details in the models. We plan to provide a smoke and non-smoke version shortly to demonstrate what it would be like, which would likely be very unpleasant to function in during the long winter months.


We added items such as cooking tools, pots and bowls (even with liquid in some….boiling to come later) but the placement is completely assumed and somewhat random.  We can easily change position and hopefully in the next couple of iterations we should be able to pick up objects and move them elsewhere.  Craig did a wonderful job replicating the bowls and spoons and we used previously modelled Iroquoian ceramics from the Sustainable Archaeology test in Longhouse 2.2, although we did have to vastly simplify the students models for the gaming environment.


One of the major issues we encountered was the complexity and detail we had been adding into the environment.  There has been a lot of thought and detail put into every element and along the way we have tried to optimize the digital assets so that real-time play would not be compromised, but it was clear with the test we did at Heritage Toronto that some creative “faking” will need to happen so as to speed things up virtually. This faking method would be to use texture maps instead of models for things such as bark cordage/rope, using more pre-rendered complex images and greatly reducing the polygon count on each of the objects within the scene.


Another observation was with the outside bark shingles.  They look bright and new and it’s likely that vast amounts of moss and other errant plant material would be growing on the sides, edges and tops of the longhouse.  Rotting of some sort would have taken root as well with the shingles itself and I suspect there would be discolouration due to weathering.  We still need to add the exterior exoskeleton which helps to stabilize and support the shingles.


This test marks a major stage in the research.  We are fairly close to the final product and will likely be spending the next month or so cleaning up the assets, increasing the speed of the virtual interaction and hopefully providing some user abilities at least in this version for users to pick up objects and possibly interact with the environment more substantially.  As an artist, I crave the hyperreal fully rendered images and sequences, but practically to allow for as many people to engage with the research, a gaming engine is needed and thus that hyperreal look becomes more stylized.


I would encourage our weekly readers to post comments or send questions through email.  This is how we are learning about new theories, methods and perspectives which only strengthens the projects goals.  Take a spin through the rendered gaming sequence and feel free to comment!

If you are in Midland Ontario this weekend, don’t forget to attend the Ontario Archaeology Societies Symposium – Circles of Interaction: The Wendat and their Neighbours in the Time of Champlain!






Longhouse 3.5

SKW_RollerPosterThis has been an extremely busy week.  Craig and I have been working hard on finalizing the vestibule entrances to the longhouse and how the Elm bark shingles would be positioned. Because of the Toronto Heritage event on October 13th, we’ve also sped up the development process a little so that hopefully Mayor John Tory and the other Toronto Heritage guests will be able to experience something unique during the event. The image on the right is a mock up of a roller poster we are having printed for the event and for future talks. The project has also gone through a little rebranding to Longhouse 3.x or LH3.x. It’s obviously a play on Web3.0 and everything that entails currently, so some of the website has changed to fit with the new branding.

Since our first post in Longhouse 1.0, you will notice a change in writing from purely academic to more casual blog style. Although I’ve spoken about this a few times, don’t let the style fool you. We are working at great pains to ensure the data being presented is represented within the archaeological, historical or oral records and when they are not, we are clearly identifying the assumptions being made. This is a conscious effort to ensure we are conducting this research with transparency and following The London Charter on virtual archaeology research and dissemination. The project itself is by no means meant to be a final interpretation but a gateway to further research and investigation which segues nicely into today’s post.

We’ve also been getting a little bit of blog notice as well. It all started at the beginning of the project with a short but well thought out mention in Geoff Carter’s (no relation BTW) Theoretical Structural Archaeology blog . Yesterday I had noticed a massive jump in visitors to the website from France and realized it was due to a short mention in the French website 3DVF.com mentioning the project.


As of this post, there has been over 700 views on the blog above, so many thanks to 3DVF for highlighting our project!


Getting into the project now, we have been working specifically on the vestibule and Elm bark wood shingles. According to Christine Dodd’s 1984 research, the vestibules on either end of the longhouse had the same width and height dimensions of the main longhouse and was generally 4.2-4.7m’s deep.  There was also an indication that the front of the vestibule would taper from main longhouse width of 7m’s to about 5.3-5.8m’s wide on the front entrance.

The image below is from the 2008 Alexandra excavation in Ontario by ASI. It clearly shows a building expansion process of a longhouse that occurred over three different phases.  However it does demonstrate the vestibule taper mentioned above quite nicely. It is also a nice visual to demonstrate the reconstruction process that occurred when a longhouse community needed to expand. You’ll notice that the end of the vestibule continue to be rounded and there seems to be clear areas in which a doorway would have occurred. Most significant is the slight veering to the right of the actual walls as the extension is grafted onto the original existing longhouse. Lastley, the final expansion has a relatively clear vestibule area with no straws (which is our way of denoting post hole stains during excavation). This is significant in a couple of ways as it demonstrates it was purely for storage and that the last reconstruction didn’t need additional posts to support any roofing or structural issues that may have occurred after the remodeling.2008_Alexandra_ASISeen in the image below, we have adopted Dodd’s dimensions for the vestibule.  Also, our flat roof approach for the smoke holes and the bark shingles that surround it has worked out well. We will add flaps later to allow for the holes to be closed and to represent the descriptions of bark flaps being opened from the interior of the house with long poles.

Lawson Site
From Jacob M. Anderson’s book The Lawson Site: An Early Sixteenth Century Neutral Iroquoian Fortress (Special Publication No. 2. Museum of Ontario Archaeology, 2009, page 70)

The flat roof has caused slight issues with having the bent vestibule posts terminate properly at the roofline.  We will also need to revisit how the poles would have been attached because there typically wasn’t a superstructure within the vestibules like the main part of the longhouse. So climbing onto the vestibule exterior framing would have been more challenging mainly because the framing wouldn’t be as stable as the rest of the house.Vestibule1You will notice that we’ve tried to approximate how this lightweight structure would have been terminated at the roofline.  There is some immediate issue with how we’re bending the poles on the sides which Craig and I will have to address later in the revisions. Currently there isn’t enough wall posts. As you can see in the excavation plan from the Lawson site below, the rounded ends have a substantially larger volume of post holes grouped tighter together.The profile image below gives us a nice representation of what we “think” is a typical rounded vestibule.  Again we are being influenced by several factors namely previous physical reconstructions, limited historical drawings and to be honest, our grade 4 classes in Native history which always seem to emphasize a “half cigar shaped” shape.


Lastly, to frame the door below and to terminate that framing so it matches the roofline, we’ve added short bracers above the doorway in order to have a continuous rounded connection between the two halves of the vestibule walls.  Again these wall posts/poles would have had a diameter of about 1-3 inches with a natural taper in length.  We have also kept the door at 3ft x 6ft which will later be covered with a skin curtain.


The next set of images are revisions on the structural elements of the vestibules.  We added more support posts, but would likely have to add substantially more poles to meet archaeological records in terms of post density.  I’m still not fully convinced of the current termination points on the roof, but for now it’s an estimated guess and will be something additional to add to our list for future research.Vestibule6

A slightly camera distorted front view of the entrance.  The archaeological record also reveals that the doorways were not always centered (either by construction mistakes or by design) and that some longhouses had the doors on the side, along the length of the building.Vestibule7

A side profile view of the entire interior and exterior framing to date.  It’s clear now that we have to increase the amount of poles used in order to replicate the archaeological record, however one of the issues we are now facing is the amount of 3D data within the actual model.  The more modeled surfaces, the slower the interaction when in the game environment, so even at this point I’m starting to weigh the need to maintain archaeological accuracy with the technical requirements of providing a fully interactive experience.

Vestibule8The wall and roofing system of the longhouse is primarily to support the bark shingles.  We’ve used Elm bark 1x2m shingles, with a randomizing pattern.  I can see some need for further randomization of the textures but this is definitely a good start.  Once fully shingled, we will need to add the bracing ex-skeleton that was used to keep the shingles in place and to act as a support system to increase the rigidity of the entire structure.


Up until this point, all of our image renders have been in Maya.  When lighting is added within Maya and if the model is created to be hyperreal, then the final images will come out spectacularly crisp and clean.  Additionally, if properly composited with other elements like atmospherics and possible real life images, these models above can and will look lifelike.

By comparison below, we give you our first rendering in Unity 5 of the longhouse fully shingled!LH_Unity_Ext_LoRezThis is our first test to see if the textures will hold up to a resolution higher than the standard 72dpi of digital screens.  Below is the lighting rendering test for the interior of the house.  As you can see in game mode it takes on a slightly stylized appearance. This will change to a more photorealistic/hyperreal experience once we compile the actual Unity game in 64bit and make our lighting and environmental tweaks.LH_Unity_Int_LoRez

It’s been a very exciting time to finally enclose our structure.  At lot of effort to date has been to provide a transparent model of project development in virtual archaeology and some insight into the micro decisions that are made throughout the process. Further, it’s been a team effort with Craig, who has been an invaluable source providing a wealth of artistic and technical knowledge.

We have compiled a simple walkthrough to start testing the experience on various platforms and will be spending the next week making all of the model and lighting adjustments needed for our first public reveal!

Again, if you have any comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


On Friday October 2nd, I received a great email and question from Bill Engelbrecht:

I’m enjoying your work.  Did you come across any information on door height? I’ve speculated (Defense in an Iroquoian Village) that low doorways would have added a measure of protection. An enemy entering would be forced to be bent over and would be at a disadvantage. This occurred in a number of warring societies, but I couldn’t find any info. on door height in Iroquoia.
My response to Bill was:
Hi Bill,
Many thanks for your email!  You raise a great point which I should have mentioned in my post today!
My height estimate is really coming from three sources; the Jesuit Relations, Christine Dodd’s work on longhouse dimensions and in this case, bunk widths and physical anthropology research on the height of the average Frenchman in the 1600’s.  In the JR they state that the Iroquoian people were about the same height as themselves or just slightly taller.  I had searched for PA data on 1600’s era Frenchmen and found on average they were 5’6″ in height and Dodd’s research indicated that the common sleeping bench width was 1.5-2m’s wide so in between the 5’6″-6′ height.
The width estimate is a little more tricky as I’ve found archaeological data yet that can suggest a common door width.  I suspect that’s easy to find but would require some additional site map evaluation.
To be honest, I’m making a guess but in talking it out with you, I like the idea of a lower door height to the 5’5″ or 5’6″ level which would require most people to stoop a little.  I was hesitant to do so only because I couldn’t find anything in the JR that indicated the Father’s had to stoop to get in (as they basically complained about everything else).
What is your experience telling you?
Bill’s question raised a great question in which I’m not sure if there has been any research done.  As seen in the Alexandra picture and the Lawson site map above, actual doorways are difficult to discern.  I’m wondering if anybody has done a survey of known archaeological excavations in which a doorway is clearly present and what the distance is between post-hole stains?  I haven’t found any yet, but if anybody does, please let us know.
I’m also interested if anybody has found information on doorway height and it’s cultural and/or defensive practices for making it shorter than the average height of the Iroquois or Iroquoian people?
Thanks Bill for raising such a great question!

Longhouse 3.4.5

This has been an extremely busy week.  Craig and I are now in high gear preparing for our first public showing of Longhouse 3.0 on October 13th during the Toronto Heritage Gala reception and then on October 23rd we are the opening speakers for the B3D Design Conference here in Toronto.  Our session in 3D Design – Graphics and Storytelling will include gaming and 3D animation industry guru Athomas Goldberg and Mummiologist Dr. Andrew Nelson as we talk about the use of 3D environments for narrative and research.


For the Toronto Heritage event we will be running Longhouse 3.x in Unity 5 on two Alienware Laptops with Ocular Rift DK1 & DK2 headsets and Xbox 360 game controllers.  All modelling was done in Autodesk Maya and Mudbox.


At the end of Longhouse 3.4, I posted the first of our Unity renders with the current Longhouse in the gaming/virtual reality environment.  This was our first real test of porting the assets over from Maya and configuring the exterior lighting.  A dummy background was used to give it placement within an environment and our test sky with horizon was added.

LH_game3In addition to the environment, we repositioned the cedar bark inner wall sheets horizontally instead of vertically and made sure that each of the 3D bark sheets had their own unique composition.  As you can see in the image above, you can make out the notion of gaps in the bark sheets.  Again, we have no clue how the sheets were attached to the interior framing structure, but it has been suggested that bark cordage was used to tie off the sheets to each other and the superstructure.  As cedar bark was used, which is considerably more pliable and lightweight, smaller gauge rope cordage could be used.

LH_game2Walking through the doorway, we’re starting to get a feel for the immensity of the space which will fill up quickly with the centre fire hearth line, goods and people.LH_game4We have been using Unity and the Ocular Rift glasses to do “site inspections” to check how the model is holding up in virtual space and to understand if we have missed any of the constant stylistic and research determined micro-changes we are making to the environment.  On the top left post above, you can see the handprint textures and the detail on the rope cordage holding the bunking system together.

LH_game1The centre roof line has been designed to allow for the smoke holes to move in response to Varley and Cannon’s 1994 research on changing fire hearth/pit positions within excavated longhouses.  We are thinking that when the fire hearth below moved, the Iroquoian builders would just reposition the exterior bark shingles to allow for a new smoke hole and subsequently covered up the old one.

Below is our first real Unity 5 environment test. The test is directly out of Unity in preview mode, meaning that it hasn’t been fully built, rendered and baked into the Unity space. When the models, textures and effects are fully coded into the game engine, the visual quality and feedback will be substantially better. Obviously we have more models and assets to add and build, so the environment when finished will have a completely different feel.  Lastly, this is a full VR walk-through captured as screen on screen.

Even in low resolution the first walkthrough raised more questions and observations. The images above are actually Craig walking in real-time around the longhouse.  He’s wearing an Ocular Rift DK2 headset and using a Xbox 360 hand controller to move around, jump and do directional head movements.

The fire (a particle system) is sparking obviously way too much. I first thought, “this place is going to go up in flames” (like it would in Minecraft)! Our fire wood would not be stacked up and we would likely have to slightly animate logs shifting in the fire hearth as they brake down in the fire.  We used Ron Williamson’s experimental archaeology adventure in a real longhouse (mentioned in Longhouse 3.3) as a basis to determine the fire hearth circumference of .6-.8m’s in diameter. However, the distance between the sleep births or even the sleeping space on the ground around the fire hearth looks dangerously minimal. At about 1.31 in the video, we “hop” over the fire in traditional gamer mode, but I noticed that even when following the archaeological data, the fire hearth seemed too close to the inner doorway.

The exterior environment is still in “basic” mode, but we’re trying to convey that the land surrounding the longhouse would likely have been well worn or even muddy at certain times of the years. We will likely bring a palisade wall into the mid-ground of the exterior shot just to enclose/constrain the longhouse vista a little more. Basic bird, wind and other effects sounds have been added and will need to be refined.

However it has been an excellent first test and should be a good indication of the minimal level of detail that can be achieved.

Elm_Shingle_Sample2Lastly we are now starting to add the longhouse shingles.  In Southwestern Ontario it has been suggested by Neal Ferris that White Elm would probably have been the predominate and suitable bark used for shingling the exterior of the longhouses. The grain would run horizontal to allow for easy discharge of any water running down the longhouse and they would likely be overlapping from the ground upwards.  The traditional “turtle shell” look of overlapping layers seems the most logical approach and has been readily used throughout physical reconstruction of longhouses since the 1970’s.

Once the shingles are on the house, the only light that will penetrate the structure will be emanating from the exterior doorways, the smoke holes and any gaps between the bark shingles.

drying_barkWe used the image to the right from www.woodlandindianedu.com as inspiration for the White Elm 1x2m shingle.  The texture maps help provide a geometry “bump”, which gives the impression the 3D model object is actually modelled bumpy.  This technique allows us to render 3D assets and bake them into memory much faster, which improves the real-time interactivity.


It has been an exciting week to finally see the longhouse within VR space and to be able to walk around the structure.  Please keep in mind we are always looking for comments, direction and opinions, so do not hesitate to leave a note.







Longhouse 3.4

Craig and I are midway through finishing the exterior and have been preplanning for the additional assets that will be added in order to populate the longhouses. In Film & Television production we call these assets “props”, which act as tools to enhance the emotions or phenomenological experience of the viewer in a particular scene or environment. These assets also help to engage the participant by giving the viewer multiple areas to explore visually and hopefully in our case, through virtual physical interaction.

One of the biggest issues with previous examples of heritage reconstruction within virtual reality has been the clean, sterile environments that are typical of early attempts at 3D. The lack of associated objects which would normally be within a certain context, the dirty, grimy textures of everyday life and the environmental elements such as dust, rain and natural sunlight all play an enormous role that helps convey a narrative whether interactive or not. These visual cues suggest that the reconstruction is just not about the structures itself, but the entire context in which the archaeological landscape lives.

Traditionally a “vision board” or similar technique is used as research for the artists who are visualizing the environment in which the participant viewer will occupy within the 3D space.  Multiple elements are considered and for our purposes I’ve broken those elements down to key areas, everyday living activities and props that will enhance the overall feel as well as generate more research questions. Again the oral histories are scarce and the only substantial historical accounts are from Eurocentric Jesuit Fathers and New World adventurers. Any visuals that exist today are in essence, a romanticized, European visualization of longhouse life. Any visuals that do exist from time of contact are in typical 16th century sketch form and highly stylized and romanticized.

pomeioc1Essentially we will be gleaning imagery that will be interpretations of interpretations, with ours being yet another semi-educated guess based on the archaeological information available and the artistic mindset that we ourselves bring with us.

I would envision a longhouse as being both a massive storage and living area, empty and quiet in the warmer months but heavily populated in the winter. I’m heavily influenced by the movie Black Robe. Although I haven’t seen it in its entirety since the 1990’s but I was struck by the cramped, smokey, grimy and heavily goods and people laden communal living environment the movie portrayed.   One would assume this vision would be close to the normal living conditions as up to 32 or more people could have occupied an 8 bunk or 24m long, longhouse.BlackrobeStarting with the interior rafters, drying supplies such as corn, bark cordage, furs, skins, tobacco, herbs, meat, fish and other goods that the inhabitants didn’t want ground dwelling vermin to attack would be hung in abundance for the long winters storage.

Interior_longhouse_raftersAll the images above are modern (20th Century) artist renditions with the three images on the right hand side actual longhouse reconstructions. I particularly like the top and bottom right images as they really start to convey what the atmosphere of the longhouse environment would be like.

The next vision board was dedicated to the cooking and heating hearths, food supplies and other household items. The images are a mix of Iroquois and Iroquoian replicated goods and longhouse interiors. As far as I can find to date, there are no visual reproductions of Iroquoian goods dating from the 16th-19th Century with only images of 20th Century replicate items.  I should also state that my particular study is in longhouse visual and phenomenological reconstruction and not other areas of Iroquoian life such as ceramics. So I’m going to endeavor to ensure we have Iroquoian examples of pottery modeled and placed within the 3D reconstruction, but if the dates are out on the ceramics we model, please just let me know.

Interior_longhouse_food_fireCorn, squash, nuts, berries and other plants and tubers were part of the Iroquoian diet at different times of the year, with a mixture of fish and game meat making up the daily intake. Cooking those items ranged from a large pot of boiling water or broth to using flat rocks to bake or fry. Roasting spits are usually depicted, but again the histories are scarce on what the cooking areas actually looked like. We assume based on some archaeological excavations that there was a shallow pit, ringed by stones in which embers and slow burning fires were kept. Some suggest there were separate cooking fires away from the heating hearths, however all were roughly aligned down the middle of the longhouse floor.

Interior_longhouse_bark_storageBark and wood was heavily used for storage and cooking utensils. In the image above, these are examples of early 18th Century Iroquoian/Iroquois storage and water containers. Most are made out of pliable birch bark while there are some modern version of what a bark or reed weaved basked might look like. Bowls and spoons were made out of wood. In the rounded vestibules at the entrance of the longhouses there would have been larger bark caskets to hold grains, corn and other items such as apples or squash.

Under the bunks would be the supplies of smaller firewood, with the larger pieces stored in the vestibules. Visually we have to remember that the firewood itself wouldn’t have been cleanly cut as the tools would have still been stone at this point, so I’m envisioning a considerable amount of broken branches, twigs and rotting trunks that would make up the daily supplies of wood fuel.Exterior_longhouse_environmentFor our virtual experience we have chosen to represent one single longhouse and it’s interior. However the exterior longhouse and village environment has to be represented in some manner. The images above again show stylized 20th Century reproductions of Iroquoian villages and environment. Perfect palisades, organized longhouses and clean and green ground throughout the village. I suspect like any well-used environment, grass or organic growth was worn down or non-existent. Plant growth would have occurred in spots where there was less human traffic, such as long the edges of longhouses or out of the direct path from one destination to another. Racks for drying fish and game, skins and furs would have likely populated the area as well as storage, refuse and maybe latrine pits? As we are intentionally limiting access to the broader virtual environment beyond our single longhouse, the sky, tree-line, possible palisade and other dummy longhouses will act as a backdrop for now until we move onto populating the environment with various types of virtual longhouses.

Iroquois_women_workLastly, we have intentionally avoided representing Iroquoian and especially Neutral Native Americans in 3D. Representing and characterizing people from different cultures or even pre-historical times is wrought with problems, especially since any European historical account would be highly racially subjective. Craig and I have talked at length about how to represent the mass of people within a longhouse, without imposing any stereotypes ourselves. One method would be to have greyed anamorphic human characters, with no distinguishing details represent the physical space Iroquoian inhabitants would have occupied within the longhouse. Another option would be to work with the descendent Iroquoian artists and leaders to build characters that would be representative of the peoples of that time similar to what was done for Assassin’s Creed III. However I would like to see a training program developed to allow for Native gamers to build their own stories, characters and environments providing not only 3D assets but a rich set of narrative games based on their own histories, myths and legends.

So as you can see, the assets we intend to use within the virtual longhouse is a mix of modern stylized imagery and a broad set of assumptions on our behalf. However, by attempting to populate what would be a sterile 3D environment with objects, effects and atmospherics, the virtual space becomes more lively, realistic and potentially representative.


Longhouse 3.3.5

I wanted to relay some great news for the project!  Craig and I have been asked to unveil the final version of the Virtual Longhouse on October 13th during the reception for the Heritage Toronto Gala.  This is an exciting opportunity for us to test in public with Heritage professionals, their first impressions of this virtual reality tool set and methodology.  However, you the viewer, will get some pre-event exposure was we start to wrap up the exterior of the building and start adding the phenomenological details inside and out over the next few weeks!

After averting disaster last week in Longhouse 3.3, we were able to get back to finishing the interior structural requirements.  However, I wanted to explain a little further the confusion people have regarding changes within 3D modelling.   In the 20 years of CGI production, this was the greatest client management issue we had to deal with.  CGI/3D is flexible, but after a certain point, the model either has to be taken apart piece by piece and remodelled and/or completely rebuilt.  In our case, since Craig took the time to make sure that all of the model details where themselves individual separate pieces, we could scale the width and height easily of the main support structure, without causing the same scaling issues on the other model elements.  Even minor changes take time to do, however if this was a service production and the archaeologist or heritage stakeholder continued to make the minor changes Craig and I have been doing, it would get very expensive very fast.  The key for future heritage stakeholders is to have a well thought out plan before executing in 3D. This way any revisions can be minor.

I’m quite happy with the outcome of our process so far.  Following The London Charter in terms of transparency in the decisions we have taken has been liberating.  By giving you the reader the full access to the problems, issues and angst we are encountering has helped in being able to identify issues and new areas of research.  Tom Frankland and Graham Earl (2011), Jeremy Huggett (2012 & 2013) and Sara Perry (2015)  have all recently discussed the role of the archaeologist-as-artist and the pitfalls related to the lack of transparency and authenticity in the production of virtual archaeology.  This in turn I hope, has provided a solid “insiders” view of the production process.

Below is what we are considering a structurally sound, reimagination of the interior structural system of a Northern Iroquoian Longhouse.  To bring later readers up to speed, we used Christine Dodd’s quantitative research on longhouse measurements and her subsequent “a-typical” dimensions to build our virtual longhouse.  It was to be 7m’s wide, 7m’s high and 24m’s long.  The bunks were to be no longer than 2m’s in depth and 4m’s in length along the longhouse walls.  Interior support posts were roughly 15cm’s in diameter and exterior wall posts 3-5cm’s in diameter.  Following Dean Snow, the bunks were to be 30cm’s off the ground with the top bunk (or compartment roof) being no higher than 4-5m’s.  Also following Snow, we added cedar bark walls to separate each family unit bunk space.  Following Mima Kapches we use the bent wall post arbour effect but used Dean Snow’s concept of a 60% wall and 40% roof for proportions.  To provide interior stabilization, we used Bill Kennedy’s and Geoff Carter’s suggestions of a solid wall to wall lateral support structure.  We followed Ron Williamson’s modern interpretation of the top roofline and smoke holes and lastly J.V. Wright’s excellent observations on specific wood types for each part of the longhouse construction, the number of wall poles per meter and the taper length associated with that wood type being used.  Along the way Craig and I added a few of our own observations and changes.Ext_4So far the dimensions, assumptions and direction from the archaeological record seems to be paying off.  We have added randomness to the objects that are typically repeated.  Each pole is a different diameter, taper length and even texture map.Ext_5Where possible we have twisted the poles slightly to mimic natural growth and have added elements such as branch knuckles, rough cuts and extra dirty textures at the base of the poles where they would meet dirt, in the middle where constant hands would rub up against them and up top where the creosote would build up.Ext_3In the image above, the spacing for the smoke holes were large enough to allow for possible movement.  I envision that when a fire hearth below moved, the longhouse architect would get up on the roof and shift roofing shingles to so that rain and melting snow wouldn’t interfere with the fire itself.  The wide gap between the two ends of the roof terminating gabled walls would allow for an easy modification of the smoke holes.Ext_2


We also went with the concept that the inner wall of the longhouse entrance (not the rounded vestibules) were actually covered in the same cedar shingles or wall sheets that were used in the bunks.  This made a lot of sense as it would have kept the heat within the main section of the longhouse and would allow for a double door during the winter.  However with the image below, I’m going to opt for a longer cedar strip, similar to what longhouse builders might have done when harvesting the cedar bark for boats, containers and other household items (see image beside).



So we are now ready to mount the shingles and add the rounded vestibules.  Next week we will have the first real rendered sequences and I’ll go more into depth on the technique Craig came up with by doing virtual reality site inspections with the Ocular Rift headset.

Lastly I wanted to touch upon something Jennifer Birch and Ron Williamson suggested recently in their book; The Mantle Site: An Archaeological History of an Ancestral Wendat Community.  The Mantle Site was a massive 99+ longhouse city ringed by an impressive palisaded area.  There is an indication that refuse trenching occurred outside the palisaded walls which would indicate that some basic form of community organization occurred.  Obviously my thoughts were whether this particular community had a permanent group of individuals who were responsible for longhouse design and construction or conversely, if every community of members within a longhouse were solely responsible for their own construction, repairs and possible fire-fighting needs?



Longhouse 3.3

Craig and I had hoped to give you a fully framed longhouse last week, but late into last Thursday night we had a massive panic attack.  We had been spending the good part of two weeks debating, researching, consulting and re-researching possible roofing methodologies that would have been used when Iroquoian builders were constructing their houses.  Yes, this seems to be also the main divergent of opinions as well between our key archaeological theorists; J.V. Wright, Mima Kapches and Dean Snow.  As you may remember, Wright suggested that the longhouse building was separated into two structures; 80% supporting exterior walls and 20% separate rafters and roof.  Kapches suggested that single continuous wall posts were bent over the superstructure frame with the ends terminating at the centre of the longhouse.  Snow suggested that 60% of the longhouse was supporting wall and 40% a more arbour like but fully attached roofing system.

Snow_framingWe have been attempting a hybrid system between Snow’s interpretation and Kapche’s version.  Essentially a longhouse that has a 60/40 proportional split between wall and roof (Snow) and a continuous wall post that begins bending at about 60% of the height.  What nobody has really not talked about is how the smoke holes where constructed or even if they were above the fire hearths inside!  Thus our ability to understand how smoke holes were constructed or even if they were purposefully built into the roof during the construction process has been hindered by a lack of oral, historical or archaeological evidence.

One of the first problems is that the archaeological record clearly indicates that fire or cooking hearths can be found throughout the inside floorplan of a longhouse.  Generally as Dodd indicated in her 1984 research, they tend to be grouped along the centre/middle of the longhouse (see image below). Dodd_1982_Idealized Longhouse Floor Plan

However, Varley and Cannon’s 1994 research on hearth spacing also indicates that hearths did move and there could have been both a cooking hearth and a heating hearth in close proximity to each other. Further, there is no indication that the number of hearth’s actually represented the number of family units within the longhouse (normal convention is that it is one hearth shared between two family units on either side of the longhouse bunking system).  The excavation map below of the Lawson Site, which is informing our research, shows two fire hearths in House #5 somewhat inline along the centre of the house.  However House #6 has one larger fire hearth one one end of the house and three smaller ones group on another.  I want to urge caution as well. Just because they didn’t find evidence of additional fire hearths, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t any (they could have been scrapped away during the excavation or they could have been removed by the original occupants).  It does help to visualize the problem of where to put the smoke holes if we were to reconstruct directly from the archaeological data.Lawson SiteIn Ron Williamson, David Smith, Rodolphe Fecteau and Robert Pearce’s 1979 Ontario Archaeological Symposium paper entitled The Longhouse Experiment: An Experience In Iroquoian Archaeology, the four archaeologists spent 30hrs in a reconstructed longhouse at Ska-Nah-Dot in the middle of a January snowstorm.  In -15C weather, the experimental archaeologists stayed in a 21.3m long, 6m wide and 4.5m high, wood framed and elm bark shingled longhouse.  The house had four smoke vents along the centre of the roofline that were .4m’s in diameter.  The smoke holes had hinged covers that could be opened with a pole from inside (Williamson et al., 1979).   The interesting part was there were 5 fire/cooking hearths on the ground, measuring about .6m’s in diameter, running down the middle of the longhouse.  We will return to this experiment over the next few weeks when we start recreating 3D smoke within the virtual environment, but for now, this description is all we have on the dimensions or physical make up of a smoke hole would be.

Further, in discussions with Neal Ferris, there is the question of weather the smoke hole would even indicate where the actual fire hearth would be below.  Convention suggests that the smoke hole in the roof would be directly above, however Ferris has raised the point of rain or melting snow providing a constant dripping on the fire hearth below.  If this was to happen, the fires would go out, but not before substantial smoke could accumulate.  A cover, as briefly described above, would not be totally effective in keeping dripping water out, so my assumption would be that the smoke holes would be offset from the fire hearths below.

Lastly, Williamson et al’s description indicates a “diameter” of .4m’s.  Longhouse construction is clearly linear and with limited fine cutting tools, I can’t see Iroquoian builders up on the top of a 7m high structure trying to cut a circular hole in the roof.  I’m going to take an educated guess that the “smoke holes” were rectangular or squarish and that the builders would use a similar shaped piece of bark shingling to act as a cover.

Hence, Craig and I started reconstructing the roof line to be much flatter, allowing for square or rectangular smoke holes to be built into the the roof and rafter system.  We drew some inspiration from the modern architectural drawings Ron Williamson provided in Longhouse 2.5 which provided a plausible method of smoke hole construction.  The image below includes a second horizontal set of beams down the middle of the roof supports to act as a connection point for framing and strapping of smaller gauge poles.


You’ll notice we have also included the interior door frame construction.  Again, from historical accounts there are indications that the flat inner doorway was constructed with the same lightweight cedar shingling that was mentioned in Snow’s account of bunk compartment walls.  After some discussion with Craig on how they would hang the cedar strips, we concluded that a door frame had to be constructed to act as a brace.  In the shot about Craig extended a horizontal pole at the bottom, but the door posts are assumed to have been dug similar to the other posts in the house.  The archaeological record shows no trenching or vertical lines as soil stains on either end of most longhouses, so I told Craig to remove the poles touching the ground and just extend the support poles on the first set of benches.


In the downward shot above, it’s clear we would need smaller more lightweight supports to frame the smoke holes.  We decided to use the same diameter poles that are being used for the exterior wall strapping (around 3cm’s) to help frame up the roof supports.


In the shot above, we start laying out the poles for the smoke hole framing and to act as supports for the top roof shingles when we start adding them to the structure.


It’s at this point when panic sets in.  We did a frontal render of the longhouse and it seems somehow it has grown squatter and wider.  In particular I was having issues with the exterior wall posts and the fact they just looked too elongated.  Going back to previous renderings reveal that yes, the longhouse has been getting wider in width and shorted in height. Width_Height_0910As we know from oral and historical sources, longhouse height was the same measurement as longhouse width.  Currently we are using Dodd’s research which suggests the average width for a Northern Iroquoian longhouse was 7m’s, thus the height would be 7m’s.  Craig did a simple measurement rendering and clearly our assumptions proved correct!  Somehow during the modelling process we had changed the dimensions without knowing.

NEW_Width_Height_Ground2_0910Again, madly pouring through our data from Dodd, Wright, Snow and Kapches, we settled on resetting the longhouse so the width equals the height.  Further we knew that the bunks were exactly 2m’s (or just below) in width on either side of the longhouse and that according to Dodd the centre width between the two bunking systems were typically 3m’s wide, which gave us 7m’s in total width (2m + 3m + 2m) and thus an acceptable range.  Height again is purely speculative, but we’ve wanted to maintain the dimensions as mentioned in the oral and historical accounts.NEW_Width_Height_Ground3_0910A quick render proved the changes visually made sense width wise, however the height looked just too high.  The door posts also looked way too thick, so we scaled down the diameter to be more inline with a slightly thicker version of the wall posts (see below).  I also asked if we could lower the height by .5m’s to 6.4m in height instead of 6.9m’s (same as width).

FINAL_scale_LH_0910The Image above shows all of our revisions in place.  Stylistically (artistically) we lowered the height just slightly, changed the diameters of the door posts (which we are assuming was an opening of about 3ft x 6ft or shorter) and setup the roofing system to accommodate smoke holed along the centre line of the roof. At this point we have 8 family compartments, which based on normal convention should have one fire hearth for each pair.  So a minimal total of 4 fire hearths and subsequent smoke holes.  When refining the smoke holes next, they will be off-set from being directly under the centre point of where we think they would have normally put the fire hearths.

Now that we fixed one problem, we wanted to do a rough check to see if length was going to be within Dodd’s numbers.  Each bunk is 4m’s in length and we have 4 along the length of the longhouse, so a total of 16m’s.  We will be adding the vestibules (rounded half cigar shaped ends) to either end, which according to Dodd was another 4m’s in length, so a total 24m’s long (4m + 16m + 4m).

This round of changes was really an eye opener in terms of keeping track of dimensions within the 3D space.  We were lucky to have discovered the dimension differences before getting further along the modelling process as it would have been more difficult to fix later.  It made me think of the decisions the original longhouse builders would make and how they might fix or repair their structures during the building process and afterwards. Further, I’m being influenced by my artistic training I’m concerned that my visual perception might distort the archaeological data, so this is something that will need to be follow closely as we start creating the atmosphere and interactive pieces.

Disaster averted but a very beneficial process!




Longhouse 3.2.5

A big shout out to @EAAGlasgow (EAA Glasgow 2015).  Would have loved to participated in this year’s timely sessions, but the Ryerson MDM grad students are starting early this week/year!  I also want to congratulate my research partner Craig Barr who just recently launched his Lynda.com course entitled Mudbox Essentials Training. Mudbox is an extremely powerful 3D sculpting and painting software application, which we’ve also used in this project as well.

It has been a week of minor refinements and some time to review roofing structures for our longhouse.  One of the key elements was to incorporate Bill Kennedy’s comments and observations in Longhouse 3.2.  Bill has been building physical heritage reconstructions for years and had indicated that to keep the internal structure from bowing out over time, a lower mid-section horizontal support pole attached to either side of the bunking system would help keep the two sides from buckling out.LH_structure_0825aUnlike the previous image below from Longhouse 3.2, with the addition of the mid-section horizontal cross-brace, the image of the Longhouse looked like it became very squat.  Craig and I actually went through the settings in Maya to make sure the render from the camera wasn’t being pinched in any way.  Artistically it clearly looks odd, however technically nothing has changed in height, width or length.

This “paradata” process of writing about the decisions made while producing a heritage object in virtual archaeology is a pillar of The London Charter discussed in Longhouse 3.1.5. It ensures transparency in the creation process,as the model assets are being built and how those assets are then applied in virtual space for public consumption.  In my particular case, I’m using my artistic side of the brain to question if the visualization is correct, which should prompt an investigation on whether there is archaeological or practical knowledge data to back up my concerns.  LongHouse_Structure_Aug10bWe concluded however that it was an optical illusion due to the change in wall post styles and the horizontal cross brace seemed lower to the ground level then what we would expect.  For the next iteration it was decided to increase the height of the cross brace to roughly 60% of the total height of the longhouse.  As discussed previously, we have been mixing building methodologies from Wright, Kapches and Snow along with insights from our commenters.  The 60% height was suggested by Snow (see Longhouse 1.5) originally with the remaining 40% being a separate roofing structure completely independent from the wall posts.  Wright suggested a similar approach but with a much taller wall system of almost 80% wall and 20% independent roof.  Our hybrid model is going to incorporate Snow’s 60% wall height, then a continuous Kapches wall post and roofing methodology.  The assumption being that native builders would have continuously tied down the exterior wall post framing to the interior support poles.  Having the mid-section interior cross-beams and supports higher to about 60% of longhouse height, would also allow the exterior wall poles to be bent more naturally and one would assume it would then be more stable and secure?LH_structure_0825bWe’re also using Ron Williamson’s Fort Erie image below for inspiration with regards to exterior poles and what they would look like at the top of the roofing system.  I’m going to assume that Iroquoian builders tied down the ends as opposed to cutting them.  The image below has a separate flat roof supported by the interior support structure and scaffolded by the exterior wall system.  This makes a lot of sense as the smoke holes were assumed to be square or rectangular in shape, which would be impossible to make if the ends of the wall posts met in the centre of the roof and were tied down.  Ultimately we have no clue whatsoever how the roof was made, so we’ve decided to make a flat roof supported by the interior rafter system then round off the roof at the top with the 1x2m shingles that will form the outer shell of the house.

Longhouse Construction 2

The image below is a revision on the notes discussed above.  In it we increased the height of the cross-beams and then also changed the exterior curve of the wall posts.  I’m envisioning two major tie down points for the exterior wall at the mid-section and top of the rafters.  With all of the potential tension on the mid and top sections of the wall posts, I’m also wondering if they tied down the bottom of the wall posts to the interior bunking system at the base?  Generally the poles would have been placed into the ground at about 1 to 1.5 feet.  Sometimes individual holes were dug, but there is also archaeological evidence that slip trenches were dug as well and then dirt filled in afterwards.  In the previous rendered image above, Craig randomized the placement of the posts, similar to how we find them in the archaeological record which suggests a roughly straight line, but not precisely straight.  Lastly, following Wright’s observations on pole height vs taper, we applied a greater taper and random length to the poles.


As with the normal model building process in 3D, we tend to forget or leave important corrections out while revision notes come through. In Longhouse 3.2 I noticed a lot of texture and modelling issues that were just simply items to be cleaned up.  Floating support beams, some bunks without supports and areas with no rope strapping.

By chance we got our Ocular Rift Dev Kit 2 this week.  Craig quickly imported the 3D layout from Longhouse 3.2 in Unity 5 and then donned the OR to do a virtual “site inspection”.  By walking around the structure in 3D, he was able to quickly pinpoint all of the areas that needed to be remodelled or cleaned up.  It was definitely a unique experience to check for issues.

One of the elements you may not have noticed in the image above is the creosote texture mapping on the upper rafters/support beams. Unfortunately a lot of this detail will get lost once the longhouse is enclosed and the lighting added, but we felt it was a necessary detail to add in terms of discussion points later in the process.Post_Lifts2Lastly Craig hand adjusted every rope lashing point in the longhouse.  Typically in 3D animation, we make one model of an element and then copy and paste that 3D model if it’s going to be repeated.  In this case, Craig remodelled every rope element as even the pole and post diameters were randomized to present a less uniform 3D look.

Our next iteration will have the exterior shingles in place and the cedar flat faced wall that was used to separate the rounded storage/entrance vestibule with the house.  As always, any comments, questions or insights are greatly welcomed.


Longhouse 3.2

It’s been another busy week as we start to refine the longhouse superstructure.  The iconic “half-cigar” shape is starting to take form, but keep in mind that this visualization is just one of many interpretations that have been brought forward over the years and only one of many physical and digital reconstructions to be attempted.  I also wanted to touch upon our method of visual research when preparing for the project.  Unlike traditional film & television production research, where images and written descriptions are abundantly gathered in order to recreate the great Colosseum of Rome for the Gladiator movie or the Viking and Medieval Villages of Europe for the Vikings TV series, I have avoided revisiting the existing physical longhouse constructions at Ska-nah-doht, Lawson, Crawford Lake or Saint Marie Among the Hurons, so as not to be influenced by modern building interpretations of longhouse architecture.  Of course those images do seep in from pictures and illustrations gleaned from research papers and internet searches but our attempt was to experience the building process from a digital perspective, hopefully making some of the same mistakes and decisions that modern and ancient builders did.   As discussed previously, one of our ultimate goals is to develop a digital system that allows all stakeholders, from Descendent communities to Archaeologists to the general public to build their own longhouses based on their own perceptions, trade skill, oral or historical knowledge.  For instance I draw your attention to Bill Kennedy’s comments in Longhouse 3.1.5 where he speaks of years of physical reconstruction experience, which is invaluable to understanding how longhouses might have been traditionally constructed.  Alas however, our knowledge of anything above the soil line is purely speculative and hence we continue on this digital journey to visualize some of the current thoughts and opinions.  Lastly if I haven’t said this, although we are looking at the architecture of a longhouse, by no means are we qualified architects.  Snow load, wind resilience or even concerns of structural fire requirements are discussion points but not from a professional perspective and we fully accept that the study is incomplete from that perspective.

Speaking of learning from those who have already built a longhouse, Ron Williamson from ASI passed along this image taken of a longhouse construction using quasi-traditional means built over 20 years ago near Fort Erie.  The build was actually based on the modern architectural plans we discussed in Longhouse 2.5.Longhouse Construction 2Ron indicated it lasted 20 years in the harsh Fort Erie weather. This leads us into this weeks continued efforts to finalize the roofing system and superstructure supports.  One of the areas of concern from a digital perspective was how the top roof, which also houses the smoke holes, was built.  In the picture above and in the plans from Longhouse 2.5 there clearly is a flat surface.  Although I haven’t spoken in depth with Ron regarding the snow loads and the subsequent melting patterns of snow on a flat roof but with my own, sometimes water damaged experience with my own houses engineered flat roof, there would have surely been water issues.  My water issues were resolved by adding a slight slope to the roof line allowing the snow and water to naturally fall away.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10As you can see above, we’ve “finger jointed” the roofline but I think there will have to be a broader semi-flat space along the top to allow for the smoke holes.  LongHouse_Structure_Aug10b Visually the wall poles on the above frontal view seem to want or even need another support system to lash onto 2/3rd’s of the way up from the top of the bunking infrastructure or we might have to accept that the poles terminated just above the top supporting beams and then a second flatter roofing system was used similar to the one in Fort Erie picture above?  Additionally, we might add the widthwise support beams to connect both sides of the longhouse to add additional support.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10cMoving to the interior space itself, cedar boughs were added for bedding, our first attempt of having rolled up furs were also added and fire hearth wood was placed under the bunks.  You’ll notice the strapping is consistent now as well.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10eWe will be adding texture maps shortly for a hardened dirt floor with the addition of heating and cooking hearths down the middle of the structure.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10dThe exterior wall superstructure will require additional exterior lateral support poles so that the 1m x 2m bark shingles can be attached to the outside.  As well, we will need to add the rounded vestibules on either end which will include a double door systems (interior and exterior) discussed in the historical accounts.  It has been suggested a cedar bark wall, similar to the cubicles, was built on the flat end of the longhouse separating the vestibule and the main living accommodations.Jefferys_1942_LonghouseVillageSeen in the image above by Canadian Artist C.W. Jefferys, this 1942 illustration depicts the stereotypical image of an idyllic Iroquois Village.  You’ll notice in the image that the longhouses do not have the rounded vestibules (half-cigar) shape we generally equate Northern Iroquoian longhouses to have and is usually represented within the archaeological record (see Dodd 1984).  My guess is that Jefferys was borrowing from other iconic illustrations like the one below.pomeioc1 This image by Theodor de Bry in 1588 depicts the Village or Town of Pomeiooc in Virginia at the time of initial European contact.  It’s actually enhanced from an initial drawing by Thomas Harriot, also of that year.  Both visual interpretations show a flat front wall sheathed in bark.  Some have suggested this was a temporary measure to enclose the longhouse before the storage vestibules were built allowing the longhouse to be in immediate use while taking their time finishing the rest of the building.  Additionally, although I haven’t seen a historical image yet, many longhouses in the archaeological record can be seen expanding in length.  I would assume that a flat wall would help to make the space livable while they build onto the length?mantle_reconstructionThe image above was used for the new documentary called Curse of the Axe which chronicles the excavation of the massive Iroquoian City called the Mantle Site north of Toronto.  I love the image for the fact that is starts to show the exterior build of the storage vestibules in their rounded form.

For Longhouse 3.2.5, we will be looking at possibly starting to add bark siding and the cedar walls to start enclosing the longhouse structure.  Based on the successful porting of the 3D model assets into Unity at Siggraph last week, we should also be at a stage where we can enter the model in gaming mode, but  we will keep our fingers crossed!


Longhouse 3.1.5

CraigatSigIt’s been a busy couple of days for the project and Craig, who is still down at Siggraph2015 demonstrating at the Unity booth.  As you can see our project is getting a workout in the Unity 5 gaming engine!  Craig’s ported the Autodesk Maya 3D models at their current stage of development into Unity 5.  Even with the models in basic form Unity’s new lighting is the bomb! We’ve also been fessing about the polygon count on the models being built as we have been trying to keep them highly detailed from an archaeological research perspective, but it looks like Unity can handle it so far.

I asked Craig to also film a quick video of the Longhouse in Unity and although it’s a low quality cell phone recording, I’m really happy with the progress!

From a research perspective, it’s been a good study on the influences the process, technology and artistic craft has on the researcher when interpreting the archaeological record in virtual space.  Both Sara Perry and Grahame Earl, who I spoke about briefly in Longhouse 3.1, talk about the value of this new form of archaeological illustration as being transformative and going beyond just illustrating or visualizing archaeology.  The ever expanding methods and growing theories of Virtual Archaeology are helping to shape how we see archaeological material and in doing so is spawning questions researchers would have never considered.  There is also a tension that 3D animation and virtual reality is “less than” traditional archaeological study, but hopefully as we continue with this project, it is demonstrating an active and valid use of traditional method and theory.

As such, this project has been following the guidelines outlined in the The London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage, conceived in 2006 as a means to encourage intellectual transparency in the creation and use of technology within cultural heritage studies.  Essentially the Charter lays out the methods researchers should take to ensure that the digital material they create has followed academic rigour and if assumptions are made during the process (as we have clearly stated in earlier posts) that they are recorded and justified to ensure authenticity of the research itself and transparency so that the public, who are now served by experiencing these digital environments, understands that what they see is an interpretation and not absolute fact.

Lastly, even in the process of blogging, you the audience is experiencing the pains, decisions, failures and successes of the process to (re)imagine extant archaeological material.  Generally this reflection comes after the project has been completed, but the Charter has indicated that it is a worthwhile effort to engage the digital process as it happens.


Carrying on from Longhouse 3.1, we were exploring the relationship of the interior supporting structure and how the exterior wall posts would be bent and attached. Craig’s quick revisions helped to better understand how Iroquoian builders might have forced the wall posts to bend at certain points to create a continuous arbour roof and wall system. It seems plausible that poles that would run lengthwise and supported by the main bunking infrastructure would be the first attachment spot for exterior wall posts. LH_structureA second set of lengthwise poles another 4 to 5 feet higher and supported by the main interior posts would then act as part of the interior rafters and another connection point for the exterior wall posts.  The interesting bit is what they did at the termination point or where two sets of poles would meet in the middle?  We have no visual or written historical material to go by in determining how the very top of the roof was constructed, but it was clear through written history that longhouses had smoke holes at the very top of the roof to allow for smoke to dissipate.  Assuming that Iroquoian Longhouse construction was linear in fashion (i.e. the smoke holes weren’t rounded), the very top of the roof would have been rectangular in shape to allow for square’ish smoke holes.LH_structure_RevisionsIn a second set of revision notes, you can see that we’re now starting to play with the idea of a flattish roof and how the opposite wall poles might have terminated.  I used the concept of fingers from two hands interjoining, but even that raises questions about how smoke holes would then be inserted.  Would they cut the ends of the poles while on top of the longhouse, or pre-cut them before they were installed?  At a starting taper of 3cm’s at the base of the pole, I would assume that after 7.m’s in length, the end of the pole would be easy to break off with the bare hands?  Or did they use a saw of some sort (which I will need to check with the archaeological record)?

In addition to creating a flat roof, we also need to be cognizant of making sure our 3D objects reflect academic thinking.  One of the quick methods of modelling is just to use a simple proxy (a tube for instance) and just make it the length of the longhouse to represent a support pole.  However, as we know from previous discussions, White ash was likely used for support poles as they tended to be much stronger than other wood types, would grow almost entirely straight and with a uniform taper but usually no longer than 12ft (in usable footage).  Hence in a 24ft longhouse, there should be at least two 12ft poles laid out lengthwise, with a slight taper.  Again, there is no archaeological or historical data to support the existence of additional support beams that might have attached to bunk infrastructure to further support the lengthwise posts, but when the initial test image was rendered, it looked or more appropriately, it felt, as though more supports were needed.

A lot of the detail we are talking about will likely be lost visually when the atmospherics like lighting is added.  Longhouses had two major light sources; the doors on either end, which might have been fully or partially covered and the smoke holes above.  Any secondary sources of light would be coming from gaps in the exterior shingles or the fire hearths themselves, thus the detail we are agonizing over would likely be entirely in the dark once the house is imported into the Unity gaming engine.  Further, too much detail in the models slows down the real-time rendering of the objects in 3D space, so it is possible that the more realistic modelling, rounded ends, nice textures, will become more angular as we reduce the polygon surface to increase speed.  All considerations to examine as we continue to build.

Next in Longhouse 3.2 we will review the changes and start to see the final infrastructure that will support the exterior walls and roofing system.

Addendum: August 17, 2015.

As an addition and in response to Bill Kennedy’s thoughtful observations, I’ve updated this blog with an image which I hope visualizes Bill’s practical experience building physical longhouses.  I will respond directly below in the comments section.BKennedy_Support


Longhouse 3.1

kegressy-IMG_2996mv-500WIt’s been a bit since our last post.  My partner in this project, Craig Barr, was off in LA doing a training shoot for Lynda.com and while he was away, I took some time for a short vacation and a chance to catch up on more readings.  During that time something odd happened which started me thinking about environmental lifecycle of a longhouse.  My wife and I live in the country in a wood framed and sided British Loyalist style house.  We woke up in the morning from a pounding coming from the kids room on the second floor and with them at camp, we rushed in to see were the noise was coming from.  Discovering quickly that it wasn’t coming from inside, but outside of the house, we ran down, out the back door to discover a Ontario Pileated Woodpecker making a meal out of my Maibec siding.  As you can see from the University of Guelph picture above, these lovely birds can make quite a lot of damage!  It got me thinking about the environmental stressors Iroquoian longhouse builders and inhabitants had to endure; mice, fleas, stray racoons (if they were dumb enough to venture in), small birds, insects and of course, woodpeckers and other wildlife assuming the longhouse was just another tree in the woods.  Along with considering to add these elements to our digital (re)construction, I encountered moss growing unconstrained on the North side of our house and along the brick walkway which also got me thinking about if the houses were regularly maintained.  Our woodpecker however will definitely be included within the audio segment of our Unity longhouse virtual archaeology environment and I hope to add some additional visual elements as we continue to build!

Craig is back in LA this week for SIGGRAPH 2015, where he will be demonstrating at the Unity, Autodesk and Lynda.com booths. However we have made some progress on the internal modeling and the initial external longhouse structure.  In Longhouse 3.0.5 we started to play with the interior bunking based on the oral and historical material available. As seen in the image below, we followed Dean Snow’s (1997) description of cedar barking being used for walls to provide delineation of family sleeping cubicles.  This building technique isn’t mentioned in Northern Iroquoian histories, but I thought it would be an interesting addition to test visually.Bunks_updateSeen in the images below from the Canadian Canoe Museum, cedar bark can be very easily harvested into long pliable sheets.  The inner side is softer and has a warmer cork-like colour and texture.  The outer side is the traditional mottled black and white rougher bark.  Immediately the discussion turned to whether the bark sheets were used for the roof and to mask the exterior wall (almost in a drywall application).  However that notion quickly was discarded as people sleeping on the platform would be pressing against the sheets on the exterior wall with their feet (assuming that everyone slept with their heads towards the fire) and cedar bark when dry would be more brittle and less forgiving to wear and tear.opening-the-bark-profileAnother concern was, if cedar was used to separate the sleeping compartments and if only one strip of cedar was used, which family would get the rougher side and which would get the seemingly nicer side?  This then led to a discussion on combining two sheets, so that each family had a softer side facing their compartment and it also helped to reinforce the wall and bark which would hopefully endure greater wear and tear.  bark-sheets-laid-outAlso, since cedar is very thin, we decided that small gauge rope cordage would be used to secure or tie down the wall sheets.  We have no record whatsoever of this practice or even an extended use of cedar sheets for wall covering in Longhouses (although there is speculation that cedar sheets did adorn the ends of the longhouses from the rounded vestibules (storage & entry areas), however, the beauty of using 3D modelling is the ability to test these assumptions.

As seen below, final strapping to secure the sleeping platform was also used (a difficult feat in 3D modelling) and we knew that white ash (which might have been used if available) for sleeping platforms would generally be about 8 meters in length at maximum or two sleeping platforms long.  Hence we needed to figure out what to do when two poles butted up against each other to continue the sleeping platform.  We added a second support and assumed that the terminus of the poles would be roughly where the compartment wall would be.  Additionally, with the support poles, the sleeping platform poles have a slight taper from one end to the other to represent the natural growth pattern of the tree.  Finally, it was decided to completely strip all bark away assuming that every piece of available bark would be used for something else.  As such, Craig put dirt smudges into the textures and even finger prints to simulate continued use.Strapping_updateWe started placing proxy examples of wood supplies under the main bench as also described in Snow (1997) and added rough versions of grass matts on the ground to simulate where they would be placed around our eventual fire hearths.  Although I haven’t asked Craig to try and simulate a blanket of mixed fur bearing animals (beaver, racoon, fox, rabbit and such) we did cut down on the Grey Wolf and Black Bear furs (less represented in the faunal middens) and increased the deer skins (abundantly represented within multiple archaeological sites) to start suggesting what would be used for bedding.  Lastly, the first modelling draft of the grass matts suggested that we would likely have to use a dull yellow or brown as the initial green would disappear very quickly as the plant dried out.  The strips would also have to be thinner to meet the scale of the rest of the items in the longhouse.Interior_Test


Our next effort started with the exterior poles of the house.  As discussed previously, the research group chose to go with a Kapche’s longhouse framing methodology as opposed to Wright or Snow’s interpretation.  This was primarily done due to the long history of longhouse construction at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in which this model has become a key style choice.  However as noted, we really have no clue what style any of the Northern Iroquoian groups used, mixed or matched in their many centuries of building refinements.  This does not preclude that other styles might have been in used or that within 3D visualization that models are in any way static, just that for our purposes we chose to go with the traditional framing methodology used when representing and visualizing the Lawson Village site.

Below is our first attempt at understanding how the support structure would work with the arching wall posts.  Based on Dodd’s research, exterior wall posts were 1-3cm’s in diameter and on average there was 4.5 poles per meter along the length of the longhouse.  We assumed a pole would have to be longer than 7.5m’s (the width and thus height of our test longhouse) in order to have enough length to both bend and then be secured down to some sort of roofing system.  As with the support posts, a slight taper was introduced from the thick end to the tip of the roof end.Ext_wall_testIt was immediately clear that the wall posts would need to be “moulded” around additional support structure poles to allow for the wall poles to be bent, but also tied down to create the tension needed for the distinctive arbour roof.  The picture below are my production notes back to Craig requesting changes to how the interior support structures would ideally need to be if following this methodology.  Keep in mind that our experiment is not architecturally based but visually and artistically.  I fully realize we are making broad assumptions at every level.Ext_wall_test_RevisionsThe assumption is that the exterior poles would be placed into the ground and then bent over the support infrastructure.  There is an 11 minute video on Youtube describing how two families built an Iroquois (South of the Great Lakes) longhouse more in the tradition of Dean Snow’s theories.  In it, they describe using rope to pull on the end of the wall pole to bend it in shape as another person tied down the pole to the interior framing, creating the arbour style of roof.  I can imagine this type of construction methodology being deployed easily with a two or three person crew.

In the next post we will explore the exterior framing further and the refinement of the interior space.  I will also be weaving in two great papers I’ve read recently.  The first by Dr. Sara Perry entitled Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology (2014), which explores the academic acceptance, or not, of archaeological illustration which 3D animation and virtual reality visualization falls under.  The second paper Modeling in archaeology: computer graphic and other digital pasts by Grahame Earl (2013) starts to question whether digital assets have “agency” or can be truly representative of the physical archaeological record.  Both papers help to solidify the valuable work of visualizing heritage as archaeological research and not just illustrations for public consumption.

Longhouse 3.0.5

Based on all of the great feedback and some excellent research leads, in Stage 3.0.5 of our virtual Iroquoian longhouse project, we look at fur, bark and pole positioning to envision sleeping platform construction within a 3D environment.  There isn’t a considerable amount of reference material available to help guide our visualization process and we will go into further detail later on the visual staging of the interior environment, but we have relied heavily on Dean Snow’s 1997 research entitled The Architecture of Iroquois Longhouses to determine how our interior bunks will be constructed.  We especially wanted to visualize the concept of actual “cubicles” for each sleeping compartment.

Based on European historical accounts, the sleeping platforms that occupied either side of the fire hearths along the interior length of the longhouse were raised 4-5ft from ground level (Snow, 1997). Snow challenges this assumption by citing later 1700’s era European accounts that the sleeping compartments actually consisted of a sleeping level or bottom platform that was 30cm’s (1ft) from the ground and the canopy or storage shelf on top no more than 1.5 -1.8m high or 5-6ft off the ground (1997), with storage for additional firewood and possessions below (Heidenreich, 1972).

Clearly, if we follow previous historical accounts of the sleeping platforms being 4-5ft from ground level, the young and old as well as most adults, would not only have had great difficulty climbing up into a platform of that height but they would have also been exposed to the intense layer of smoke from cooking and heating hearths, making it difficult to breath or see (Sagard, 1939; Smith, Williamson, Fecteau, & Pearce, 1979; JR 10: 91-93). These contested ethnohistorical observations fail to account for seasonal sleeping preferences or even actual longhouse height, which if architecturally higher as Wright suggests, would have greatly reduced the smoke layer well above standing height (1995).

Further, using references from oral history, the common Iroquoian building measurement was ten (Allen & Williams-Shuker, 1998; Kapches, 1993). It was believed to be 1.5 meters in length or equal to the normal size of a body in the sleeping position (Allen & Williams-Shuker, 1998; Kapches, 1993). Dodd discovered based on the archaeological record that the standard range of the sleeping compartments would have been 1.5-2m in depth based on the bunk line pole positions (1984). This assumption would have been supported by French Missionary descriptions of the time and their own general height in the 16th and 17th centuries of 1.6m in size or roughly the same as their Iroquoian hosts (Komlos, 2003). Other’s have suggested, primarily in fictional narratives, that family also slept on the top bunk as well.

Therefore, based on support post positioning within the archaeological record, it is generally accepted that sleeping platforms/family cubicles were generally 1.1-1.8m’s in width, 3.7-4m’s in length and 1.8-2m’s in height. the actual sleeping platform itself has been recorded to be anywhere from 0.30-1m off the ground level with the roof of the platform where personal storage was commonly thought to be, being 2m’s from ground level.     Measurements_MetresOur first attempt in Longhouse 3.0 had the bunk slats running the width of the platform in short 1.8-2.0 poles. Keeping in mind that pre-contact Iroquoian longhouse builders only had the use of stone axes and fire for initial harvesting of the trees, the notion that they would be chopping multiple platform poles into even length slats seemed like a considerable amount of work for relatively no benefit.  In F.W. Waugh’s Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, he states:

A method described by David Jack was to ties some saplings around the tree, forming a small, scaffold-like structure. Sods were placed on this, water was poured over them and a fire built up below. By alternatively hacking with stone aces and burning, the tree was finally cut through. If it was desired to cut it into lengths, a double pile of sods was made around the trunk where it was to be divided , and fired applied to the space between. Chief Gibson’s description of tree-felling was essentially the same, except that, according to him, a quantity of rags was tied to the end of a pole and used for wetting the trunk and localizing the action of the fire. Both Lafitau and Kalm give similar descriptions, indicating the method to have been one in common use. *Lafitau, Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquain, pt. 2, p.110 &  *Kalm, Travels, vol. II, p.38. (1916; p.8)

Thus, we made the decision that it was probably more efficient to harvest fewer but longer poles, which would act as the platforms for the bunk that would run horizontally along the length of the longhouse.

Also keeping in mind that poles were generally harvested around the 8-12m length and that White ash for sleeping benches were likely used.  White Ash tends to grow straight with very little branches and have consistent diameters even when it is long.  According to (http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/fraxinus/americana.htm) a 20 year old White ash will generally be 4inch (10cm) in diameter and 12m in length.  So if we’re running a 24m long longhouse, we could have two 12m long 10cm diameter poles end to end for sleeping platform support beams. My estimate would be 16 beams (8 for each side of the sleeping platform).  The diameters had to be substantial enough to allow for at least 400-500lbs of weight (3-4 people) to be supported without buckling in the middle and long enough to be tied down on both ends and likely in the middle to the main structural elements.Double_supportsIn switching the direction of the poles however, it was quickly realized that there could have been a couple of additional enhancements to the bunking system to reinforce the poles and to deal with the weight of family members and their daily activities on the platforms.  Additional support poles were added at the major support posts (see above) and Craig suggested that it would have been better to tie down such long poles in the middle to keep them from shifting (see below).Middle_StrappingPosts (anything in the ground was Cedar) and beams (white ash) were tied together typically using basswood cordage (wood rope).   JV Wright supports this approach although we don’t have much visual or oral history to back it up.  Hitches or knots aren’t explained at all in the historical accounts, but this 1500’s image show a cross hitch/knot where the posts were lashed together (http://www.virtualjamestown.org/paspahegh/structure8.html).  We used a threaded looping knot and will use the cross hitch for the major support poles.

Another issue on our first try was the rounded look of the ends of the poles.  Obviously they wouldn’t have been uniformly rounded so we attempted to roughen up the ends of the poles a little more, but recognizing that over time and use, the ends themselves would be come rounded and dull.  There isn’t a lot of visual references available for wood cut by stone tools but Sensible Survival had a blog post on how to make a stone axe.  Below is an image from that blog posting which clearly demonstrates how rough the ends of a pole would be.12 tree cut 5Below is still frame from a Youtube video by freejutube, which shows a larger diameter tree that has been freshly cut by a stone axe.  As discussed above, the effort is extensive event to cut small diameter trees and the finished product is substantially rough in texture and feel.maxresdefault The image below has two end caps that haven’t been treated and the middle end caps have been modelled more to mimic the roughness.  A texture map will be applied to further enhance the visual look.LengthWise_Bunks_EndsAlthough we will talk further about these little details, a lot of this finite detail will be lost in the final gaming environment mainly because of lighting effects and the need to reduce the model complexity so the game runs in real-time.  However, seen or not, we are trying to logically address all of the visual elements that may be representative in this virtual reimagination of the archaeological record.


Another part of the last blog’s discussion was the notion of whether bark was removed from the support posts and bunking poles or whether it was left on.  This is obviously pure speculation because the oral, historical and archaeological records have no information on this or not. General consensus from the commentators was that removal of bark would have been preferred.  Completely by accident Dr. Jennifer Birch had suggested a great quasi-ethnographical account by F.W. Waugh entitled Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation written in 1916 (mentioned above) when I was starting to enquire about storage of food stuffs within longhouses.  In it, F.W. Waugh spoke extensively on the use of bark for a multitude of household and work related tools.  So much so that it seems impossible that Iroquoian longhouse builders wouldn’t have also harvested the bark for other needs prior to building the longhouse.  In the latest test below, among testing possible bedding, we ensured that the bark was either partially or almost entirely stripped from the poles.  In addition to the removal of the bark, the next step would be to add dirt, creosote, hand prints and other stains to the exposed wood to give the benches a looked in feeling.screenshot005Additionally, we started looking at what the potential bedding would be.  Again there isn’t much written on the subject, but everything from cedar boughs, woven mats to various furs were suggested.  Originally we thought Black Bear or Grey Wolf (current species that inhabit Southwestern Ontario) along with the common Deer, would be represented in the form of bedding.  However, the faunal (animal) remains within most archaeological sites near the Lawson Site area have limited or no Black Bear or Grey Wolf skeletal remains.  Deer, along with medium sized fur bearing animals such as Racoon, Rabbit and Beaver is much more representative .  The test image below shows a mixture of bear, wolf and deer.screenshot006Upon further discussion, we decided the next iteration to be a mixture of cedar boughs and primarily deer skin for bedding material.  As discussed above, the top level of the bunk may or may not have been used as a sleeping platform.  The historical references suggest that the smoke layer was somewhere in the 4ft-5ft level within a longhouse when all of the fires were going.  Ron Williamson reports from an experiment done at Ska-Nah-Dot in the middle of the winter during the 1970’s, that when a few warming and cooking fires were at full-capacity within the reconstructed longhouses, the smoke level was dense, leading to difficulty in breathing and to see.  I would speculate based on the references from the Jesuit Relations and Ron’s experience that the top bunk was used primarily for storage and thus for our next round of renderings, we’ll start placing household objects that might have been stored there.  screenshot007At this point, the next stages will be to add cubicle walls, the exterior walls, roofing, fire hearths and vestibules.  Again, there are several roofing methodologies and theories that can be visualized and easily reconstructed in 3D as we’ve seen in Longhouse 1.0 and Longhouse 2.0, however we will go with the Kapches model of bent wall poles that terminate at the roofs centre forming an arbour effect along the roof line.  Our decision will be discussed further in the next few posts, but for now we have provided one vision of how the initial internal structure may have been represented within Northern Iroquoian Longhouses of the 15th century.

Longhouse 3.0

In starting our virtual archaeology project to visually reproduce a 15th century Virtual Iroquoian Longhouse from the archaeological record, our assumption right from the beginning was that we would follow the process that J.V. Wright had initiated so many years ago when reconstructing a longhouse from the archaeological record.  Through experimental archaeology, Wright used the exact pole positions at the Nodwell site of an excavated longhouse floor to position and build the longhouse.  Pole diameters were matched with the archaeological record however certain logical decisions were made in the building process to determine which archaeological post hole positions were relevant for the rebuild.

Nodwell A

Traditionally, if a longhouse was to be physically rebuilt from the archaeological record, the existing pole positions would act as a guide in the reconstruction process and as in Longhouse 1.o we intended to use existing excavation maps to guide our 3D virtual longhouse build. However our pivoted goal was the phenomenological experience of being in and around a longhouse within virtual space.  Thus, we chose instead to use substantial quantitative data, to build a representative version of a Northern Iroquoian longhouse prior or just at point of European contact in the 15th century.

As discussed in Longhouse 1.5, J.V. Wright, Mima Kapches, Dean Snow and Christine Dodd along with Ron Williamson, John Creese and others generally agree based on the archaeological data, that there is a basic building process that Iroquoian builders used when building longhouses.  What differs, based on historical European visual and written accounts, oral histories and language of the Iroquoian themselves and the speculations of practicing archaeologists was how the roofing structure was built and the possible positioning of the sleeping platforms.  I will go into more detail later, but these are just a small example of the research questions being raised as we start to build.

Following Dodd, the basic building blocks of a 15th century Norther Iroquoian longhouse are:

  • An average of 18m’s in length.
  • Height is as tall as the width (note that the archaeological record only provides data on width and oral history provides data on height).  Generally the average width is 7.6m’s.
  • The centre corridor width is 4.0m’s.
  • Sleeping platforms/family cubicles were generally 1.1-1.8m’s in width, 3.7-4m’s in length and 1.8-2m’s in height.
  • The actual sleeping platform itself has been recorded to be anywhere from 0.30-1m off the ground level with the roof of the platform where personal storage was commonly thought to be, being 2m’s from ground level.
  • Average interior support post were 8.6-9.1cm’s in diameter.
  • Exterior wall post diameter was 1-3cm’s in diameter and on average there was 4.5 poles per meter along the length of the longhouse.
  • Typical fire hearth spacing was 2.9-3.6m’s between hearths.  Each hearth support two families on either side of the longhouse.
  • Exterior roof and wall shingles were 1x2m cedar or elm shingles.

The difficulty is that most academic literature describes longhouses in a similar fashion, leaving the reader to visually imagine what a longhouse might look like.  How do these measurements equate visually if they were to be represented?

In addition to the basic measurements that Dodd was able to collate through the archaeological site data of over 400 Iroquoian longhouse excavations, there is the discussion between the roofing structure, which is highly dependent on the initial support post or internal skeletal structure of the longhouse.  Currently there are three major internal structural forms or supports that make up the external visual differences in longhouse construction as described in historical accounts that have been theoretically suggested (Snow, 1997; Williamson, 2004):

  • Wright’s reconstruction of a longhouse at Nodwell suggests a π shaped internal support infrastructure existed which would have supported a visual ratio of 4:1 in height between the main building and a separate arbor roof (1971, 1995);
  • Based on extensive historical European oral accounts and two specific visual representations of Seneca longhouse floor plans from the 1700’s, Snow suggests that longhouses might have had a 60/40 split between longhouse body and a separate upper roof (1997);
  • Kapches, using Iroquoian oral history, suggested that the longhouse walls and roof might have been entirely integrated by long exterior posts lashed at the center roofline forming a continuous arbor effect (1994).

Snow_framingSo our initial variables in the construction of a digital longhouse are: width/height, length, inner support post diameters and exterior roofing/framing style.  As discussed in Longhouse 1.0, there is an ability within several 3D Animation & Modelling software applications to create a dependent procedural modelling environment.  Basically, the ability for the modeller to change any parameter at any time during the model creation process.  In traditional Animation & VFX production, this flexibility would be severely constrained due to the danger of clients changing their minds and the massive interdependencies that are involved technically when creating assets for a Film or TV production.  However in this particular project, the procedural approach does allow for the ability to experiment visually with the known archaeological data.Longhouse_v1aUsing Autodesk Maya, we started with the initial framing design based on the average building parameters discussed.  As seen in the image above, basic eometry represents the interior and exterior framing elements and a Metric Measurement standard was used within the 3D modelling environment to mimic the size and object relationship to real-world data.  Ten centimeter diameter interior support posts were used, with 3 cm diameter exterior wall posts bent in an arbour effect, similar to the Kapches theory of longhouse construction.Longhouse_v1bSeen in the image above, we ensured that the longhouse height was equal to it’s width and that the sleeping platform widths and the corridor width were distributed appropriately based on the averages within the archaeological record.  On the left of the image, the support posts were positions roughly 4m apart which corresponds to both archaeological and written data.  Lastly, the middle section of the image demonstrates the average number of exterior support poles per meter.ao_testWith regards to the sleeping platforms, written accounts from the Jesuit Relations indicated that the Iroquoian longhouse members would sleep head outwards toward the main corridor (and the heating source) and their feet towards the exterior walls.  the Jesuits indicated that the Iroquois men were on average, their own height or slightly larger. The average height of a French male in the 1500’s was 5’6″, which is just a few inches shorter then the normal 1.8m width of the sleeping platforms which would allow for individuals to lie fully prone on the bed.  The image above is a previous test to determine if a 5’6″ 3D character could lie comfortably within a 1.8m width platform to support observations of sleeping berth dimensions the Jesuit priests discussed in the Relations.Longhouse_v3aOur next iteration of the model was to add placeholder bunks, supported by long horizontal posts running the length of the longhouse and short platform and roof slats for the family cubicles.  The gap in the upper roof is based on several modern interpretations of how families might have accessed goods typically stored above and/or the “loft” for additional sleeping.  Currently the diameters of all the wooden elements are uniformly 10cm’s.  Also, we have to rely on “common sense” to determine how the bunk itself was constructed as there is no written, oral, visual or archaeological references that describe this building process.Longhouse_v2aIn an attempt to better understand how the bunks might have been constructed, we borrowed the same technique of making an “h” support system on either side of the main corridor from the modern architectural test version in Longhouse 2.5.  This made complete sense as it would almost be impossible for the outer 3cm diameter exterior wall posts to support the weight load of not only the bunks, but the numerous people and goods they would hold.Longhouse_v3bThis next image was a simple ambient lighting test.  Basic grey non-reflective shaders (surfaces) are used to determine how the light diffuses as well as identifying any potential modelling or lighting issues early on.  Additionally, we added a slight taper to the support posts from 10cm’s at ground level to roughly 9.5cm’s at the top to mimic the natural tree growth diameter as the tree matured.Longhouse_v3cA closer image reveals the typical 3D uniformity of assets that are built and copied.  What immediately sticks out is that the bunk poles and the other pole surfaces are flat faced tubes, lacking any taper, diameter sizing or surface variations.  A sparse virtual environment that lacks any connectedness to the real-life building materials or even construction techniques.  Our next task was to add some visual variables in order to convey a more realistic material environment.screenshot000The first remodelling request was to give the support posts more thickness.  In the previous images, the poles when visualized with the upper range of Dodd’s average 10cm thickness, they looked too thin to support the benches.  Now this might have been my own artistic interpretation of what I was seeing, but after talking with Ron Williamson, he had suggested that the data gleaned recently from the 99 longhouses at the massive Mantle Site, suggests that inner support posts for Mantle were actually an average of 15cm’s in diameter. We applied this diameter along with an adjusted taper in length which produced a more satisfying visual result.screenshot001As we started applying textures to our wooden posts, the first question was; “did the Iroquois strip bark from the posts before they were erected and would that act as a fire safety measure due to the proximity that the support posts would have to the fire hearths”? After discussions with Dean Snow, Neal Ferris and Ron along with an exhaustive searching of the historical writings, the answer was non-conclusive.  A chance discussion with Namir Ahmed about the problem led to the suggestion that bark might have stayed on the support post as it was erected in place, but during time, out of boredom or necessity, the bark would have been stripped away.  Thus we mimicked bark removal in areas directly adjacent to the sitting or laying parts of the sleeping bunks where it would be easily removed.

An additional layer of texture mapping will be applied later to visually suggest a buildup of creosote which would have most definitely been present within the rafters of longhouses as numerous fires would have been contributing to the smoke layer within the structure.

Additionally, no tree grows straight.  Thus the 3D posts were given a slight randomness and curvature to represent what would be typical tree growth patterns.  Tree nots and protrusions on the support posts were also added in an attempt to better visualize the natural material being used. screenshot002Finally end surfaces of poles were rounded off in an attempt to visualize a rough cut made by stone tools.  Texture maps with lateral cracking was added to the ends to also mimic the drying of the wood as it aged.  Test 3D cordage was added to determine how the poles would have been secured to the main supports.

In visualizing the initial framing process, we were able to not only raise more questions as it pertains to traditional longhouse construction, but experiment in order to arrive at variants from the existing data.  We immediately recognized that to build bunks with multiple 1.8m length poles for support and roof surfaces, would be a highly labour intensive endeavour.  It was more likely that longer and less quantity of poles would be used along the length of the longhouse instead of the width.  Also, our textures and modelling of the end caps of all poles and posts had to be rougher in order to mimic the use of stone tools.  Lastly, issues like the cordage type and even the knotting of the ropes, would have to be researched further.