A Puzzle in 4D

Digital preservation and reconstruction of an Egyptian palace


Tell el-Dab’a. Beginning of work in area F/I in fall 1979 (photo: M. Bietak © ÖAI)

‘A puzzle in 4D’ is a project dealing with the general problem of integration of heterogeneous and incomplete digital and non-digital records of archaeological long-term excavations to prepare them for spatio-temporal analysis, long-term archiving based on national and international standards and open-access online publication for specialists and the general public. Our pilot study will be the resources from the Austrian excavation project at Tell el Daba (TED) in Egypt, where fieldwork has taken place since 1966.

Maze and bull leaping scenes from Palace F in area H/I (after M. Bietak et al. 2007, 58–59)

Tell el Daba (TED), the ancient Avaris, was the capital city of the Hyksos and is situated in the Nile delta region of Egypt and was occupied from the 12th to the 18th dynasty (early second millennium BC). Excavations of mainly residential buildings, tombs and temples show a wealthy society with contacts to many parts of the eastern Mediterranean including a unique connection to Minoan culture. Altogether 88 fieldwork campaigns were carried out at TED from 1966 to 2009. During this time, the archaeological discipline has seen major changes. Most notably developments in information technology have caused a shift from analogue to digitally-born data. As a result, after 45 years of fieldwork campaigns, the TED archive at OREA contains a huge and heterogeneous resource of digital and non-digital photographs, plans, drawings and written documentation.

Today, parts of the datasets and information on TED are destined to destruction. For example, the negatives of black and white photos from earlier fieldwork campaigns are deteriorating irreversibly over time. Data loss may occur due to fragmented legacy research data (e.g. digital site maps) and incompatibility of formats as well as loss of knowledge about the spatial and temporal relationships of archaeological entities.

The project consists of two main parts

1. Creation of an archive to ensure the preservation of analogue and digital TED resources including the digitization of analogue resources, enrichment with metadata for long-term archiving and open-access online publication (in collaboration with ÖAW ACDH).

2. Development of a tool for the integration of data according to their spatio-temporal relationship and for 4D post-excavation processing of excavation legacy data (LBI ArchPro)

Detail of field drawing of tomb F/I – o/20 no. 3 made on graph paper prepared for scanning (© ACDH/ÖAW)
3D reconstructions of F/I – j/21 cellar 12 and tomb 14 based on field drawings (© LBI ArchPro)