A new scanner should capture the 3D geometry of the rock drawings down to the submillimetre as well as its material characteristics. In the meantime, a remote-controlled miniature helicopter captures the environment in 3D with coarser resolution.
Researchers at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar are developing new presentation systems and visualisation technologies for the joint exploration of the virtual Val Camonica and its prehistoric rock art.
Published: 19 March 2013

Prehistoric rock art becomes digital: research project „3D-Pitoti" receives support from the European Union

What stories do the millennia-old rock drawings in the Italian Val Camonica tell? Is it possible to recognise in the so-called Pitoti the "handwriting" of its author?

A team of scientists from England, Austria, Italy and Germany is investigating new procedures for the analysis of the chiselled figures and drawings. The project „3D-Pitoti" has the goals of developing highly exact 3D-digitising technologies, intelligent classification methods and interactive visualisation technologies. These should facilitate the scientific analysis and public presentation of this UNESCO world cultural heritage site that is so difficult to access. The chair of Virtual Reality Systems at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar is receiving €480,320 in financial support from the European Union.

An entire valley becomes digital
Before, the three-dimensional engravings were documented only in photos and drawings. Until recently, most people did not know of its existence.  In the project, new 3D scanning technologies are being developed now for the highly exact digitising of the Pitoti and the surrounding terrain. The digitising allows for new perspectives on the alpine valley and its rock art. First, computer-aided analysis methods will facilitate the recognition and comparison of the figures; second, researchers and laymen can experience the figures  independent of place and time.

Scans exact to the submillimetre
"Our interactive 3D visualisation technology offers groups of users the possibility to jointly view virtual environments. In the digitised Val Camonica we can observe spatial relationships from a bird's eye view as well as individual rock drawings at close range", explained Alexander Kulik, a Ph.D student of the Virtual Reality Systems group. The visualization of the 3D scans exact to the submillimetre, shows details that were not perceptible with the naked eye otherwise. This spatial accuracy also enables the investigation of chisel marks for the first time. One can examine for example the density, depth and direction of the chisel cuts. The researchers hope to find "handwritings" in the detailed structures and thereby be able to assign the rock drawings different styles, formation phases and authors.

Realistic simulation of sun irradiation
The aesthetics of the Pitoti unfolds through the interaction of light and shadow at different times of the day. The figures seem to move as though they were animated. Some of the rock drawings are recognizable only in the morning and evening when the sun is low. The virtual Val Camonica is supposed to realistically convey this dynamic play of light and shadow. In addition, the new 3D scanning technology must go beyond geometry and capture material characteristics. Unlike photos and videos, which only record the light situation at the time the shot was taken, the three-dimensional imaging and presentation allows for the subsequent transformation of the lighting. This way, archaeologists and museum visitors can admire the prehistoric art in the best light, including simulated sunlight at different times of the year and day.

Past meets present
By combining innovative scanning methods, the project „3D-Pitoti” enables the comprehensive and high-resolution digitising of the rock art and surrounding terrain, which is difficult to access. The archiving and intelligent processing of the data opens new ways for investigating prehistoric cultural artefacts. New 3D-visualisation technologies make the Pitoti accessible to a large portion of the public. New possibilities also arise for the artistic analysis of the works of our ancestors. Media Art/Media Design student Marcel Karnapke gave the public a taste of this with his bachelor's-degree final project "Vergangenheit berührt Gegenwart" ("Past Meets Present"). He derived corresponding solids from the 3D engravings and presented variations of their interpretation in the form of 3D-printed sculptures at summaery 2012 . The work was also of great interest at archaeological exhibits in Milan and Cambridge.

You can find a video about the exhibit at Cambridge here: http://vimeo.com/61414820

Background Information
„3D-Pitoti - 3D Acquisition, Processing and Presentation of Prehistoric European Rock-Art"
A joint project financed by the EU in the Seventh Framework Programme, by the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar (Faculty of Media: Prof. Dr. Bernd Fröhlich, Virtual Reality Systems) with the University of Nottingham, FH St. Pölten, University of Cambridge, TU Graz, Arctron 3D GmbH and the Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici (CCSP).

You can find further information about the research project under http://cordis.europa.eu/projects/rcn/106885_en.html.