The Early Projects
The Mastabas at Giza, Egypt
page updated Feb. 25, 1999
developed a process he termed "epigrammetry" while working
on material from Giza, provided in 1992 by Dr. Peter Der Manuelian, assistant
curator at the Museum of Fine
Arts in Boston. Archaeological evidence came from the Western
Mastaba Field behind (west of) the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu), Giza,
excavated intermittently between 1905 and 1932 by the American archaeologist
George Reisner. The stone mastabas were constructed during the early
reign of the pharaoh Cheops and continued to be built until the end of
the Old Kingdom (Dynasties IV-VI, approximately 4500 years ago).
The mastabas were excavated by the Americans, the Germans, and the Italians
(the Italians' section later taken over by the Americans).
beneficial by-product of constructing such computer models is the reuniting
into a single reconstruction images of the original excavated material
that has since been dispersed, some on display in museums, some in private
collections, and some in storage. In other words, the original ancient
site can no longer be viewed as a unified monument, except in reconstructions.
Computer-generated reconstructions based on actual excavated evidence are
more accurate than any other method of reconstruction, short of rebuilding
the actual structures.
The illustration shows the tomb of Nofer (Dynasty IV, ca. 2606-2575 BCE). The model was based on evidence from excavation photographs, plans, and field diary entries. The field photographs allow us, in the computer, to re-place the actual blocks back into their original positions and give them their original appearance, color, and texture. The color panel is a re-creation of a carving currently on display in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (museum expedition #07.1002), seen here in its original context for the first time. The computer reconstructions illustrate the tomb in a condition close to the monument's original forms, before exposure to the elements, tourists, and vandals caused its lamentable deterioration.
Further, Riseman demonstrated in the early 1990s that not only the elements of architecture, but also the decoration and hieroglyphics can be re-created by computer techniques. For example, hieroglyphics can be transcribed more accurately, more quickly, more cheaply, and made more reproducible for later study than possible by traditional methods through the use of a then pioneering technique that he called "epigrammetry" (or digital epigraphy). Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions, such as the Egyptian hieroglyphics, which occur either painted or carved in relief on walls and columns. Traditionally, and still continuing today, hieroglyphics are copied by hand using pencil or pen and ink. Computerized epigrammetric techniques using actual field photographs and autotrace computer programs have enabled us to reduce the reproduction time by as much as 90% and in some cases provide twice the accuracy. The next step will be to develop 3-D epigrammetric processes that will also be non-intrusive.