Reverse engineering can be conceived of as a form of mechanical dissection or backward problem solving, and summarized as a process of reasoning in reverse from a technological artifact to the problem that it was created to address. Theories associated with reverse engineering are not widely applied in archaeology; however, there are a number of archaeological examples associated with finite elements analysis (FEA) that do point toward a broader interest in the application of reverse engineering principles. Examples of FEA in archaeological practice can be seen in analyses of ceramics, the USS Arizona, the Albolafia waterwheel, and ancient architecture.
Reverse engineering is largely an exploratory enterprise with the purpose of understanding design and–where possible–the method of manufacture in cases where written records are not available. Historic and archaeological applications that employ reverse engineering practices include ceramics, headstones, inscriptions, a Greek Lyre, historic structures and monuments, general digital restoration, a foot rest bracket for a historic bicycle, and an assessment of the reverse engineering process for cultural heritage conservation. Reverse engineering of the bronze cannon follows in-step with the studies mentioned above, but differs in that it enlists a 3D scan-to-CAD workflow where the surface model is iteratively refined to meet the specific tolerances specified by project parameters through enlisting CAD and computer aided inspection.
The cannon derives from the contents of La Belle, all of which are the property of the Republic of France and from the collection of the Musée National de la Marine.