In Search of Solomon, Gabriel and Internet Archaeology

By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

vvvvvSan Diego, CA, June 27, 2008 -- Supporters of UC San Diego's Judaic Studies Program converged this week for a presentation by the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3), a high-tech collaborative referred to by one researcher in attendance as the “DreamWorks of archaeology." 

Tom Levy
CISA Associate Director Tom Levy talks about his efforts to create a Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land.

Researchers Tom Levy, Maurizio Seracini and Falko Kuester -- who are all affiliated with CISA3 and the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) -- presented a series of lectures and high-tech demonstrations at the event, which was titled "In Search of Solomon, Gabriel and Internet Archaeology: Using Engineering and Scientific Methods to Explore the Past." The event was designed to showcase CISA3 technologies that could one day be used by museums worldwide to give the public a deeper experience of works of art and how they were created – especially with regard to Biblical archaeology.

"I think of Calit2 and CISA3 as the DreamWorks of archaeology," said Dominique Rissolo, an archaeologist and director of research for the Waitt Institute for Discovery, founded by Gateway computer pioneer Ted Waitt. "Archaeologists haven't before made use of these technologies, which you typically see in the entertainment industry. People get stuck in their ways of collecting data, and archaeologists are not always good about communicating to the public. This group at CISA3 is good at sharing the things we archaeologists have kept to ourselves, and they expand the audience in a very meaningful way."

Rissolo joined a full house of patrons for the event, which began with Levy's lecture on work to create a Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land (DAAHL). The project aims to develop a virtual atlas of archaeological sites, artifacts and other information dating from remote prehistory to the early 20th century, in what are today Israel, Jordan, southern Lebanon, the Sinai Peninsula and Syria. The online database would be available via the Google Earth interface to both scholars and the general public, and would categorize tens of thousands of recorded archaeological sites using powerful spatial information tools such as geographic information systems, global positioning systems and, if future research proves successful, even ultraviolet and infrared multispectral imagery. 

"In our tradition, we are really the people of the book," said Professor Levy, director of the Judaic Studies program and associate director for CISA3, which is a joint venture with the Jacobs School of Engineering and UCSD's Division of Arts & Humanities. "I love to publish on paper, and I'm a dirt archaeologist, really, but we have to embrace digital technology in all fields in the 21st century."

Reception for "In Search of Solomon"
Supporters of UCSD's Judaic Studies Program turned out in droves for the event.
DAAHL will be the first node in MedArchNet, the Mediterranean Archaeology Network being developed by Levy in collaboration with Stephen Savage from Arizona State University and CISA3, and Chaitan Baru of the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The cyberinfrastructure, which is expected to have global appeal, will span the entire Mediterranean basin and will link digital photos, videos and scholarly papers to 3-D visual data for each site.  

"It's all aimed at preserving cultural heritage," Levy said, pointing out that political interference or armed conflicts can often limit work in the field. "If, under the worst circumstances, we can never go back to these sites, we have all the data. This kind of project really empowers researchers because it creates a public platform for their data."

Accompanying Levy's lecture was a high-definition video re-creation of Pharaoh Shishak I's military campaign in the Holy Land, jointly produced with Calit2’s Director of Communications, Doug Ramsey. Shishak was one of only two Egyptian pharaohs mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, and the HD video incorporates Google Earth Pro tools to create fly-overs and other visualizations to illustrate the routes Shishak likely followed during his conquests, as well as the regions that fell under his reign. Following the film, Jerry Gumpel, president of the UCSD Judaic Studies Board of Visitors, said he found it "intriguing to see how Biblical Studies has been married to the 21st century."

Maurizio Seracini
CISA3 Director Maurizio Seracini led the audience on a virtual tour of da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi.
Revealing more secrets of the past was Maurizio Seracini, director of CISA3, a National Geographic Fellow and an alumnus of UCSD. Seracini led the audience on a virtual tour below the surface layers of pigment and decay on Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi . Seracini used multispectral imaging techniques to unveil da Vinci's underlying sketches, which had been covered over in subsequent years by an opaque brown wash.

In any painting,” Seracini said, “that thin layer of paint hides a history, hides a genesis, and we are able to show that as if we are able to stand behind the shoulder of the artist and watch him as he's painting. With this technology, we can apply an in-depth understanding that our eyes can't get."

For the final lecture of the evening, Calit2 Professor of Visualization and Virtual Reality Falko Kuester spoke about his own work, as well as his collaborations with Levy and Seracini. Kuester and a team of graduate students recently undertook a project to scan the Palazzo Vecchio's Hall of the 500, a Florence landmark that is believed to be the home of da Vinci's long-lost mural, The Battle of Anghiari. (Seracini is spearheading the effort to find the painting).


Falko Kuester
Falko Kuester, seen here at a Calit2-National Geographic event, spoke about his work to use laser scanning and visual analytics to analyze works of art, historic buildings and archaeological sites.
Kuester is also working with Levy to research the feasibility of using a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) laser scanner to document billions of spatial points at archaeological sites in Jordan, which would further Levy's efforts to create a comprehensive 3-D database. In April, Kuester's graduate students used the LIDAR scanner to create a 3-D rendering of a Native American  archaeological site in San Diego's Anza Borrego Desert State Park, giving Levy and his colleagues hope that the technology could be used in the Middle East.

Why Anza Borrego? The answer is simple, Levy says: "It only cost me coffee and apple pie to take the researchers to Anza Borrego, rather than all the way to Jordan."

Following the lectures, audience members were invited to view 3-D images of Levy’s research in Calit2's interactive StarCAVE immersive virtual-reality environment. Images of Kuester and Seracini's work were displayed on the institute's HIPerSpace wall -- the world's highest-resolution display at 286 million pixels.

"We have tried to provide a pixel for every American," Kuester joked.

Media Contacts
Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

Related Links
CISA3 Archaeology