From a Buried Fragment to the Virtual Artefact: a case study of Greek pottery

Despoina Tsiafaki, Anestis Koutsoudis, Natasa Michailidou and Fotis Arnaoutoglou


The fragmentary condition of objects is often an issue in the study of material cultural heritage. In archaeology, and in pottery studies in particular, fragmentary condition of excavated objects impacts on research into their history and presentation. Ceramic vessels and vase fragments are the most numerous archaeological finds and a primary source of information about various aspects of ancient life: private, public and religious, economic and technological, social and artistic. Pottery plays an essential role in reconstruction of the past. The subject of this chapter is a fragmentary clay drinking cup, kantharos. It is a vessel attributed to the god Dionysus and a typical drinking vase used at symposia (parties). This particular kantharos was unearthed during the excavations at the ancient settlement of Therme, today’s Karabournaki near Thessaloniki, Greece. It was found within the settlement’s architectural remains. The vase dates to the Archaic period (7th-6th century BC).

Although the kantharos shape was widespread in ancient Greece, this specific example is unique in terms of its profile, decoration in form of four snakes, and the unknown pottery workshop where it was made. The decoration suggests a ritual vessel, thus giving a possible insight into local ancient culture. Although much of the kantharos is preserved, its fragmentary condition makes complete reconstruction difficult. Evidence for reliable reconstruction is insufficient: the lower part, that would originally consist of a base and foot, is missing.

The process of virtual reconstruction through 3D visualisation, described by the authors, has contributed significantly to the study and presentation of the vase. They discuss the advantages and limitations of technologies used. The process of
creating this particular computer model may be applied to other fragmentary vases that come either from the excavation at Karabournaki, or any other archaeological site or collection. This research may be of interest to experts in 3D technologies, as well as archaeologists and art historians, both academic scholars and students, museum curators and conservators, educators and other multidisciplinary audiences.

Keywords: Greek pottery, kantharoi, fragmented objects, archaeological excavation data, virtual reassembly, 3D approximation, visualization, COSCH



Figure 1. Aerial view of the ancient site of Therme, today’s Karabournaki near Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo: Aristotle University Karabournaki excavation photo archive, 1996



Figure 2. The fragmentary Karabournaki kantharos. Photo: Aristotle University Karabournaki excavation photo archive, 2010



Figure 3. Viewpoint spatial distribution of sherds during photoshooting © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Figure 4. Visualisation of 3D digital replicas of sherds using Vertex Paint and Smooth Normal Shading software © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Figure 5. Extracting profile data using horizontal and vertical intersections of a sherd © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016


Figure 6. The nine sherds aligned and organised into two groups. Spatial distribution of Group 1 sherds (left) and Group 2 sherds (right). Colour encoding indicates a different sherd © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Figure 7. Spatial alignment of the two groups of sherds. Positioning of the two groups around the axis of symmetry (left). Position refinement using handle positions as reference (right) © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Figure 8. Using lathe to create an approximation of the vessel’s main body © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Figure 9. Visualization of the approximated body, with and without the sherds digitized in 3D, after applying the Boolean 3D mesh operations© Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Figure 10. Different viewpoint renderings of the virtually reconstructed kantharos © Athena Research Center, Xanthi, 2016



Table 1. Data collection details of each 3D digital replica sherd