Digital Humanities: Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants

Period of Performance

6/1/2015 - 12/31/2016

Funding Totals

$47,200.00 (approved)
$47,200.00 (awarded)

3D Saqqara: Reconstructing Landscape and Meaning at an Ancient Egyptian Site

FAIN: HD-228890-15

Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1077)
Elaine A. Sullivan (Project Director: September 2014 to May 2017)

Development of a three-dimensional model and virtual tour that would demonstrate how the ancient Egyptian cemetery at Saqqara evolved over the course of nearly three millennia--from 2950 BCE to 332 BCE.

GIS, a major data organization tool in archaeology, places information within a two-dimensional geospatial framework linked to locations on the Earth's surface. Human lives are not lived, however, on a flat surface, but are embedded in a three-dimensional world. The addition of a third coordinate, elevation or height allows us to replace layers of complexity when working with cultural data. Change over time (the forth dimension) is a fundamental aspect of human life and crucial to understanding human experience in the past. 3D Saqqara offers a 4D study of an ancient site across space and time. By simulating the changing built and natural landscape, the project explores the visual environment that shaped the experiences and choices of past peoples. Through the recreation of lines-of-sight between important cult places, the project traces how decisions over time change the meaning of these spaces and altered ancient peoples' perception of the ritual landscape.

Media Coverage

Dr. Elaine Sullivan (UCSC) Visits Campus to Discuss 3D Site Models in Research and Teaching (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Camille Villa
Publication: UC Berkeley
Date: 10/29/2015
Abstract: Presentation at UC Berkeley that received online press coverage; topic included the formerly NEH-funded Digital Karnak Project as well as the currently funded project 3D Saqqara

The future of the past (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Eileen Campbell
Publication: Inquiry @ UCSC Research Magazine
Date: 6/1/2016
Abstract: 2-page color photo spread and short interview with Dr. Sullivan on using digital tools to recreate ancient sites, including the NEH funded Digital Karnak Project and the NEH funded 3D Saqqara project

A Digital Publishing Initiative (Media Coverage)
Publication: Stanford University Press
Date: 9/9/2017
Abstract: Discussion of my forthcoming (2018) born-digital monograph based on the 3D Saqqara project tentatively entitled 'Constructing the Sacred.'

Associated Products

3D modeling and GIS for temporal visualizations of multi-phased ancient sites (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: 3D modeling and GIS for temporal visualizations of multi-phased ancient sites
Author: Elaine Sullivan
Abstract: Scholars of the ancient world seeking to understand complex ancient landscapes (both natural and built) commonly use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to organize and analyze surveyed or excavated cultural data. GIS places archaeological information within a two-dimensional (2D) geospatial framework linked to real locations on the Earth’s surface. Human lives are not lived, however, on a flat surface or plane, but are embedded within a three-dimensional world. Archaeologists seeking a more contextualized framework for their data must add a third coordinate, elevation or height, to their analysis. Additionally, change over time (the fourth dimension) is a fundamental aspect of human life, and necessary for any study that aims to understand human experience in the past. These elements – height and time – are often neglected in archaeological GIS projects. The project 3D Saqqara attempts to create a truly four-dimensional visualization of an ancient Egyptian site. The project presents a workflow for how 2D archaeological data can be transformed into 3D representations of ancient built and natural environments, maintaining the geo-spatial coordinate system of GIS and allowing for both quantitative and qualitative visual analysis. While the project focuses on Egyptian material, such techniques can be applied by scholars of the ancient world interested in landscape and human perception in general.
Date: 01/08/2016
Conference Name: Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA

The Future of Spatial Technologies in Egyptology (Book Section)
Title: The Future of Spatial Technologies in Egyptology
Author: Michael Harrower
Author: Elaine Sullivan
Editor: Kara Cooney
Editor: Richard Jasnow
Abstract: Over the past few decades, spatial technologies, including satellite imagery, GPS, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, and (more recently) 3D modeling have substantially transformed archaeology1 and these developments are having an increasing influence in Egyptology. As tools of spatial visualization and analysis become more affordable, accessible, and easily integrated into archaeological research, we argue that more explicit consideration of their roles and impacts specifically within Egyptology is advisable. The following work presents a brief summary of select spatial technologies and potential applications in Egyptology. For each, current applications, some of the major resources available, and possible future uses are discussed. We do not intend to provide a comprehensive review of all pertinent technologies, but instead a brief introductory description of a few key innovations.
Year: 2015
Primary URL:
Access Model: printed book
Publisher: Lockwood Press
Book Title: Joyful in Thebes: Egyptological Studies in Honor of Betsy M. Bryan (Material and Visual Culture of Ancient Egypt)
ISBN: 978-1937040406

Perception and experience in changing historic landscapes: the necropolis of Saqqara, Egypt. (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Perception and experience in changing historic landscapes: the necropolis of Saqqara, Egypt.
Author: Elaine Sullivan
Abstract: 3D reconstruction models of complex, multi-layered archaeological sites allow scholars to investigate visibility and movement across time and space in now-disappeared ancient landscapes. Adding a 3rd and 4th dimension to traditional Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data creates new opportunities for considering re-imagined places through “subject-centered” viewpoints, considering human perspective, vision, and embodiment within the larger landscape. This paper describes how such 4D technologies are being utilized to investigate the creation of meaning in sacred landscapes at the ancient Egyptian site of Saqqara, a necropolis and cult site with occupation covering 3,000 years.
Date: 04/01/2016
Primary URL:
Conference Name: Modeling Culture: 3D Archaeology and the Future of the Past, at UC Santa Cruz