Peter Der Manuelian
The Giza Project, a collaborative international initiative based at Harvard University, has as its ultimate goals the collection, electronic preservation, study, and presentation of all records from the world’s most famous archaeological site: the Giza Pyramids and their surrounding cemeteries and settlements (3rd millennium BCE–present). Giza’s archaeological and historical contexts, including an artifactual record of tens of thousands of objects and the decorated, inscribed walls of Giza tombs, provide glimpses into every aspect of Egyptian culture. They offer primary source starting points for almost any conceivable kind of inquiry into life during the first flowering of the long-lived Egyptian civilization. The Giza Project will provide unprecedented access to the site’s record across time and space through an innovative blend of old and new approaches to digital archaeology and data management. We unite intensive parsing of diverse, primary documentation with advanced 3D visualization to produce powerful online research tools and new teaching technologies for the world community at all levels of expertise.
Some projects digitize archival collections; others visualize ancient monuments in computer renderings. The Giza Project is one of extremely few to combine both approaches with the aim of comprehensive access to a site, its artifacts, and centuries of documentation from almost any starting point of inquiry—visual or textual in nature, amateur or expert in scope. The innovative facets of the Giza Project are realized through two coordinated offices with distinct production tracks: Data/Informatics (Track 1) and Modeling/Visualization (Track 2). The work of Track 1 (Giza Consolidated Archaeological Research Database, or GizaCARD) consists of the assembly, processing and cross-referencing of digitized documents and media related to Giza’s archaeological record—currently housed in physical archives scattered across the globe—in a relational database framework that is logically structured specifically for site-oriented archaeological data. We have assembled archival collections from ten major collaborating international institutions and continue to build holdings at a scale not previously achievable, all with the aim of producing the most comprehensive repository for Giza’s record—past, present, and future. These diverse data types include photographs, excavation diaries, expedition find logs, museum object metadata, architectural maps and plans, epigraphic facsimile drawings of tomb wall scenes and hieroglyphic inscriptions, and (un)published scholarly works.
Our Track 2 (3D model production) relates directly and operates in parallel with Track 1. We have already made progress in the construction of an archaeologically accurate, real-time interactive 3D model of the Giza Plateau and all its monuments, currently available as a pilot outreach website (http://giza.3ds.com). Our plan is to merge the traditional archival legacy content (Track 1) with 3D visualization technology (Track 2), in order to create a free online public resource. This website will include a new form of visual database, a freely navigable, real-time “virtual Giza” that is dynamically and seamlessly integrated with the archaeological database. As a visual and contextual access point to the Giza database, this new interface will act as a front-end 3D graphic “information environment” that embeds rich Giza data sources into their appropriate geographical and spatial contexts.
The collection, organization and presentation of Giza’s archaeological source material via an archaeological framework comprise the backbone of this next-generation paradigm for archaeological information management and interactive appreciation. It is applicable to other archaeological sites and indeed to any spatially oriented or site-based datasets beyond archaeology as well.
Globalizing the Field: Preserving and Creating Access to Archaeological Collections