Samothrace Update 28 October 2019

Digital Art Histories: 3D (Geo)Spatial Networks

Samothrace: Passage and Perception in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods

Final Project Update and Reflections

Bonna Wescoat, Arya Basu, Ian Burr and Vincent Baillet

FINAL PROJECT UPDATE, following on the Venice Workshop

Samothrace 3D is an ongoing, large-scale project that has been considerably enhanced by our participation in the DAH: 3D (Geo)Spatial Networks Workshop. Currently, we are working on responding to advances made during the 2019 excavation season, which included a new reconstruction of the theater and additional monuments in front of the Stoa. Of fundamental importance, new evidence that the ancient course of the central torrent differed from the current modern course required substantial modification of the landscape to reflect the ancient conditions. Not only terrain, but also access, circulation, and crossings, had to be rethought in light of this new information. A third issue we had to confront centered on rectifying discrepancies caused by the initial surveying HATT system, which was internal to Greece and not fully coordinated with a world grid. In 2018, we were able to migrate our CAD and GIS survey data to the 1987 Greek grid (which can be supported in ArcGIS). This fall, we have rotated and corrected the 3D model to align with this world grid.  The error was approximately 1 degree, but it required shifting everything. We continue to colorize the buildings and refine the construction of the large-scale monuments for statues.

We have rendered new still images of the Stoa and surrounding monuments, the theater, the Sacred Way, and the Eastern Hill complex, which reflect the aforementioned advancements made in the 3D model since attending the 2019 Venice summer institute. We are also preparing to render new walkthrough animations of the Sanctuary which will demonstrate the changes in circulation near the ravine and include a deeper level of visual detail in the architectural features of the buildings and monuments.

Since attending the 2019 Venice summer institute, we have devoted considerable energy to planning the Unity-based initiative, which will be the platform for real-time research and visualization. The two major branches we are currently developing are free-form exploration and agent-based modeling. Having made the major required changes in the terrain of the 3dsMax model, we are now ready to migrate to Unity.


Participating in the initiative, DAH: 3D (Geo)Spatial Networks fundamentally advanced our 3D digital modeling work in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Prior to our participation, we had pursued one major avenue in the 3D visualization of the Sanctuary. The workshops exposed us to an array of ideas and inquiries that deepened our knowledge and showed possibilities for present and future initiatives. Similarly, learning from the approaches of different teams to their material—their diverse questions and strategies—helped us to think more broadly about our own approach. By bringing together art historians and digital experts who are committed to 3D (geo)spatial exploration of art historical questions, and who entered the program with experience, we were all able to discuss challenges and share possible solutions at an advanced level.

We were also in a position to benefit from the expertise of the Duke Wired Team. In particular, Ed Triplett’s recommendations regarding the move to Unity were timely, appropriate, and inspiring. The exercise Victoria Szabo and Mark Olson conducted on agent-based modeling became especially important as we developed an agent-based scenario for entering the Sanctuary. Victoria Szabo’s on-line guide to the Ghetto of Venice provided a basis of discussion for our long-term goal of augmented reality experiences at the site of the Sanctuary on Samothrace, which we are discussing with Greek colleagues. Paul Jaskot’s insistence that we keep the art historical questions front and center established the context in which sophisticated harnessing of digital technologies in the service of a deeply visual field can and will become a central mode of investigation and interpretation. Hannah Jacobs was enormously helpful on how to manage it all. Our gains were both immediate, in the building out of capacity and the solving of problems, and long term, in understanding in what capacities we can develop in the next several iterations of our project. All of the members of our team are deeply indebted to the DAH: 3D (Geo)Spatial Networks program.