Recording the Quarries of Aswan and Gebel Silsilah

In November 2008, INSIGHT joined a team from Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) for an expedition in Egypt to study ancient quarries.  The goal of the field work was to test current thinking about how Egyptian quarries worked by studying traces of ancient excavations and visualizing cumulative extractions of stone over time.  In granite quarries near Aswan, we used laser scanning to document the beds where largest obelisks were removed. In the massive quarries of Gebel Silsileh, which stretch along both sides of the Nile for many kilometers, we looked for interesting relationships between the Nile and its flanking work sites.  Where chapels suggested votives were offered to the river, or where causeways once carried barges laden with worked stone when the Nile was in flood, we took note.  By coordinating ground-penetrating sonar in the Nile with mapping of the surrounding quarries, we found objects of interest that SCA divers will explore in future seasons.

Frédéric Wilner's 2009 film Le secret des Pharaons bâtisseurs follows the expedition and funded much of the work.  Sunken Treasures of the Nile is a one hour version of the film which was produced in 2010 by the National Geographic Channel.  Greg Downing of xRez Studios joined INSIGHT for the field work and continues to work with INSIGHT on new output from this ongoing project.  Carlos Velazquez of Epic Scan provided long-range laser scanning support, having previously worked with INSIGHT for Maya Skies field work.


Reassembling the Avila Portal at USF

When the University of San Francisco set out to reassemble a historic Portuguese portal from a pile of stone fragments, they knew they'd found a hard problem.  Surprisingly, while the fragments they received were carefully labeled, there was no key for their reassembly.  Worse,  several sets of numbers were evidently being used as labels.  Traces of different markings could be seen, often conflicting with others.  Without a definitive guide to the assembly, the University was left to fit the pieces together themselves.  Unfortunately, placement for many of the small stone pieces were ambiguous to laypersons and experts alike.  Even when it was clear that a piece belonged to a recognizable feature (for instance, the center keystone arch), the neighbor pieces would stubbornly refuse to reveal their proper locations.

Working with large stone blocks like puzzle pieces is not a new challenge, and it has never been easy.  Strolling at night through the brightly lit Temple of Luxor in Upper Egypt, it's possible to spot places where mid-20th Century masons unintentionally inverted a piece before cementing it in place, forever.  The goal of the USF project was to avoid those kinds of errors by testing conjectural assemblies on the computer before working with the physical stones.


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News & Events

The Smithsonian Museum's work in 3D Digitization. INSIGHT Board member Kelly Roberson brought the Smithsonian's recent 3D work to our attention, including publicly accessible data for 3D printing similar to INSIGHT's Maya Skies Archive (  To read more about the Smithsonian's plans, please see this news story:


Current Questions in Authenticity. This day-long symposium at UC Berkeley will be held February 3, 2012, as is open to the public.  Several people on the INSIGHT team will be participating.  The event is free and open to the public; RSVP to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


INSIGHT's Kevin Cain is serving on the International Scientific Committee for VAST 2011. The International Symposium of Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Culture Heritage (VAST) conference will be held October 18-21, 2011, in Prato, Tuscany, Italy.  Kevin previously co-chaired VAST 2004, gave the keynote for VAST 2003 and has presented papers in other years.

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the Institute for Study and Integration of Heritage Techniques

P.O. Box 1166, Berkeley CA  94701-2166

Mission statement

INSIGHT works to document and visualize the human record.

For cultural heritage specialists, INSIGHT acts as a bridge between the disciplines of archaeology, art history, computer graphics, and computer vision.  For the general public, INSIGHT fosters interest in archaeology through the lively digital media we create.