Publish at December 04 2011 Updated August 03 2022

Digital technology to revive lost buildings

A 3D modeling technology platform allows to recreate monuments of which only vestiges or sketches remain today

While it is possible for us today to marvel at some monuments built over time,  many major buildings however have disappeared, under the combined effect of natural disasters, erosion, or human actions. 

As a result, many buildings are now only legends. What did the famous Colossus of Rhodes or the Circus Maximus of Rome look like, of which only remnants remain today. Until now, we had to rely on the few known sketches and illustrations to find out. But 3D technology now allows some humanities scholars to reconstruct, virtually, these vanished buildings.

Giving life to monuments to eliminate preconceived notions

This colossal computer design task was undertaken by the National Center for 3D Digital Heritage Resources at Bordeaux 3 University. On the Archéovision platform, mythical monuments come to life virtually. Whether it's a recently closed Renault factory, the sanctuary of Aton, the Circus Maximus or the castle of Montaigne, the objective is always the same : to accurately restore the places.


To achieve this, archaeologists and historians work hand in hand with the modeling teams. Reconstructing these buildings is not easy, as their exact measurements, the topography of the land, the materials used at the time, etc. must be taken into account. As we learn on the site, the different tasks are carried out in parallel. While the humanities specialists collect data about the site, the computer scientists build a basic 3D model.

With an initial model in front of them, it then becomes easier for the experts to argue and propose corrections in the rendering. An interface has been created to share information on the platform. The Archéogrid allows participants to add visual and textual documents to this virtual light table, no matter where they are in the world. To complement this technical work, seminars are held to evolve the 3D models to a " final form ".

The leader of the Archaeovision project, Robert Vergnieux, does not consider that these 3D representations are the end of the archaeological work. But, as he revealed to the newspaper Au fil des événements of Quebec City's Laval University, these models help eliminate false hypotheses. For example, the specialized literature has long accepted that the Circus Maximus could accommodate up to 250 000 people. However, the 3D models showed that the limit was 95 000 spectators.

Such virtual reconstructions take a long time. For the Circus Maximus, the process took 8 years. Archaeovision's specialists and participants are not in danger of being unemployed since they are involved in more than a hundred projects at present. For now, the catalog of 3D representations is not open to the public, but the site's artisans are working on it.

For lack of being able to physically walk through these mythical places, technology allows us to get a clear picture of their original state. Certainly, the humanities such as history and archaeology will benefit from these models, but it is interesting to imagine their use in tourist tours (with augmented reality aplications), museums, and history-geography classes, among others. So hopefully these 3D representations will be available to the public in the near future.

Official Archaeovision website


" Archaeology in virtual reality ", Yvon Larose, Au fil des événements, Laval University,  October 13, 2011 edition.

Illustration: reconstruction - Archaeovision.

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