Notre Dame Documents Excavation in Butrint, Albania

Butrint, Albania excavation site

Butrint, Albania excavation site. photo by Eric Nisly and Allison Evans

Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in south-west Albania directly across a narrow strait from the island of Corfu Greece. The ancient city was occupied by the Greeks, and later the Romans, making it a diverse site with a rich history. It was abandoned by the Italians and others in the late Middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The mud and vegetation that eventually covered the area kept the ancient ruins well preserved. In 1928 modern archaeological explorations of Butrint began and continues today.

Notre Dame assistant professor David Hernandez has been studying Butrint since 2004. Hernandez has led multiple archaeological excavations in Butrint involving Notre Dame students and archaeologists from Albania.

Thanks to a special travel grant from the College of Arts & Letters Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts Hernandez was able to fund Eric Nisly from the Office of Information Technologies and MFA photography graduate student Allison Evans from the Art, Art History and Design department to join his 2013 archaeology team to create high resolution digital images of his new archaeology work in Butrint. Many of the ruins he and his team recently discovered are below the current water table, so each new carefully excavated area must be filled in at the end of each season’s work. Therefore digital documentation and cataloging of new excavation sites and the artifacts discovered are very important.

Using a variety of tools Nisly and Evans created time lapse imagery, spherical 360 degree panoramas, and high resolution gigapixel photos of numerous Butrint ruins, including Hernandez’s current dig sites. A GoPro video camera was used to create time lapse videos of site excavation activities. To capture some of the unique digital images of the ruins, Nisly created an innovative field mount using a PVC pipe he purchased locally. This ten foot monopod allowed shots to be taken from an above ground perspective, giving panorama viewers a wider view of the ruins. A Programmable Seitz Roundshot VR Drive and Gigapan Pro robotic camera mount were used to shoot 360-degree and gigapixel images that capture extremely high detail of the ruins. The Roundshot shoots a low-resolution full 360 spherical set of images in about thirty seconds, and a high resolution gigapixel image set in five to ten minutes. The older Gigapan panorama tripod head often takes an hour or longer to shoot a similar gigapixel panorama image set. This longer exposure timeframe creates numerous problems when trying to stitch high resolution panoramas from large image sets. The sun or clouds moving overhead and people moving around the site causes shadows and ghost artifacts to appear during the post processing stitching phase which require a lot of manual touch-up work to fix. Nisly and Evans also brought a MacBook Air laptop on site to test stitch the gigapixel images using Autopano Pro software, making sure that high resolution image sets were well exposed and complete while still on location.

Using the Gigapixel panorama technologies described above brings a new perspective to the traditional forms of documentation Hernandez usually develops as part of his field work. The high quality images created of this important World Heritage archaeological site allow researchers and students to virtually explore the site back on campus and in the classroom.

Below are some examples of 360-degree panorama images Nisly and Evans created since returning from Butrint in July 2013. The areas featured were discovered in the 1950s. As Hernandez completes his research on the recently excavated areas he will use the gigapixel panoramas to help illustrate and explain his findings in Notre Dame courses, journal articles, books, public presentations and in future grant funding applications.

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