'Virtual archaeologist' to shed new light on 3,500 yr old civilization

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Washington, August 17 : A research team, from Princeton University in the US, has developed an automated system that works like a 'virtual archaeologist' to shed new light on Thera, an island civilization near Greece that was buried under volcanic ash more than 3,500 years ago. or several decades, archaeologists in Greece have been painstakingly attempting to reconstruct wall paintings that hold valuable clues to the ancient culture of Thera.

Now, thanks to an automated system developed by a team of Princeton University computer scientists working in collaboration with archaeologists in Greece, this Herculean task may soon get much easier.

According to David Dobkin, the Phillip Y. Goldman '86 Professor in Computer Science and dean of the faculty at Princeton, the new technology "has the potential to change the way people do archaeology."

"This approach really brings in the computer as a research partner to archaeologists," said Dobkin, who got the inspiration for the project after a 2006 visit to the archaeological site of Akrotiri on the island of Thera, which in present-day Greece is known as Santorini.

To design their system, the Princeton team collaborated closely with the archaeologists and conservators working at Akrotiri, which flourished in the Late Bronze Age, around 1630 B.C.E.

The Princeton system uses inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware and is designed to be operated by archaeologists and conservators rather than computer scientists.

The system employs a combination of powerful computer algorithms and a processing system that mirrors the procedures traditionally followed by archaeologists.

"We mimic the archaeologists' methods as much as possible, so that they can really use our system as a tool," said Szymon Rusinkiewicz, an associate professor of computer science whose research team led the Princeton effort.

"When fully developed, this system could reduce the time needed to reconstruct a wall from years to months. It could free up archaeologists for other valuable tasks such as restoration and ethnographic study," he added.

In 2007, a large team of Princeton researchers made a series of trips to Akrotiri, initially to observe and learn from the highly skilled conservators at the site, and later to test their system.

During a three-day visit to the island in September 2007, they successfully measured 150 fragments using their automated system.

Although the system is still being perfected, it already has yielded promising results on real-world examples.

For instance, when tested on a subset of fragments from a large Akrotiri wall painting, it found 10 out of 12 known matches. Further, it found two additional matches that were previously unknown.

"This showed that the system could work in a real-life situation," said Tim Weyrich, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in computer science at Princeton.

To make the system run faster, the researchers are planning to incorporate a number of additional cues that archaeologists typically use to simplify their searching for matching fragments.

ANI

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