Digitizing Motifs from 3D Scans of Ceramic Artifacts

Recently we began digitally tracing the motifs and designs on Caddo ceramics using the 3D Mesh Sketch function in Geomagic Design X. This allows us to create a 3D illustration of the decorative motif as a separate layer, enabling us to view the decorative motif as a 3D image that can–like the 3D model–be rotated, measured, and otherwise manipulated. While it is not the point of our current research to delve into decorative metaphors, having the capacity to isolate certain elements of these designs could certainly be useful within the framework of future analyses or comparative endeavors; particularly where a singular decorative element or group of elements is concerned.


Unassociated 31.3 from the Washington Square Mound Site. For more about this vessel, click here.

These illustrations may prove useful in a number of contexts for archaeological and historical research, particularly where investigations are centered on a specific theme. For instance, Carla Gerona recently (2012) explored the temporal and spatial dimensions of historic Caddo sun accounts, which left me wondering how the sun might be depicted in Caddo ceramics. Certainly it might be said that imagery of the sun is present within the various elements of the previously defined ceramic types (like Ripley Engraved), but there are other manners in which this imagery could manifest itself within and beyond the currently-defined motifs.

For example, during our recent analysis of the Vanderpool collection from the Gregg County Historical Museum (download that article here), the decorative motif on a bottle, FIN-S18, was illustrated. When rotated to look down the neck of the bottle, it is possible to view an eight-pointed star below a circle with eight downward pointing triangular elements; an observation that might otherwise have been missed. Having the capacity to view Caddo motifs like this one in a format that captures information which, at least for bottles and ollas, is often distorted or warped in more traditional 2D representations may provide yet another way to explore the complex decorative elements that were employed by Caddo potters.


FIN-S18 from the Vanderpool Collection. To learn more about this vessel, click here.

This approach provides another manner in which to isolate and view the decorative motifs on ceramic vessels. To what extent it might be used to compare and categorize specific decorative elements within these motifs remains unknown.


Written by zselden

My research is focused at the confluence of archaeology, engineering, computer science, and the humanities. I am particularly interested in the application of 3D technologies to archaeological problems, geometric morphometrics, network analyses, archaeological theory, and archaeological science.