robert z selden jr, archaeology, archeology, geometric morphometric, ceramic, analysis, mathematics, statistics, 3d, 3d scan, laser profilometer, optical profilometer, incision, morphology

Laser Profilometry/Ceramics

I was recently afforded the opportunity to visit the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) in Natchitoches, Louisiana to explore possible uses of profilometry for our 3D research of Caddo ceramics. After manipulating various settings and tweaking scan resolutions, we scanned an arbitrary 1.5cm square on an incised Caddo sherd from 41SY280 (41SY280-17; above and below – sherd courtesy of the United States Forest Service). Those results have provided plenty of food for thought; particularly for morphometric attributes associated with Caddo decorative elements.


The image below is of a single 1.5cm surface profile, and the four large dips seen there are incisions that a Caddo maker scored into the surface of the clay body; likely during the Late Caddo period (ca. 1450-1680) in East Texas.


One of the many useful features of the software is that it can rapidly quantify variation in the scanned surface. The image below depicts the results of that quantification when using the default settings. While I would argue for some modifications to this prior to employing those metrics in an analysis, it did make for some interesting discussions about variation in Caddo decorative elements.

So might it be possible to use this technology to better segregate between the decorative elements (engraved, punctated, incised, trailed, etc.) used by Caddo potters? Maybe. It might also help to better characterize variations in tool use by Caddo ceramicists as they sought to create (and replicate?) specific design elements.


Profilometers are not newcomers to archaeology and have been used in both historic and prehistoric applications (mainly physical properties [primarily topography] and use-wear on lithics), and a review was recently published discussing experimental studies of lithic use-wear.

In terms of ceramics, there was a recent study of Roman pottery graffiti that employed a profilometer.

This has left us with plenty to ponder in terms of the morphological attributes associated with Caddo decorative elements, and I hope to return to NCPTT in the near future to begin working to parse those out.


Many thanks to Jason Church and Tad Britt at NCPTT for taking the time to explain the various aspects of the hardware and software, and for allowing time on the profilometer.

Thanks also to Juanita Garcia and the United States Forest Service, who provided the Caddo sherd from 41SY280 that was scanned with the profilometer, and used in this post.


References made to published literature are hyperlinked within this post above the animation. Link to those by clicking on the bold/color text.



Written by zselden

I am a research associate in the Center for Regional Heritage Research at Stephen F. Austin State University, where my work is focused at the confluence of archaeology, art, 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.

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