Fountains Abbey – 3D digital models of a protected World Heritage Site to ground truth the Curious Travellers project

The Curious Travellers project uses public-donated photographs and videos combined with extensive web-mining of photographic and related information drawn from travel blogs, the wider web and social media to create 3D digital models of archaeological and historical sites and buildings at risk. We are often asked how we can be certain that we have the models right – if they are buildings that have been damaged since the photographs were taken then how can we be certain that our models are accurate and true representations?

Image 1: Temple of Bel at Palmyra World Heritage Site

Quite simply, we test our methodology with protected and well-preserved heritage. The process of designing the workflow and then creating the 3D models is a time consuming, iterative process. We have to go through multiple versions of 3D models, trialling different software packages and approaches, various subsets of images (such as those donated by the public, those recovered by web-scrapping, and those taken by team members and students) and then assessing each model for accuracy, which is why it seems such a slow process. A key aspect of assessing the quality of our models is to test them against laser-scanned data (which is highly accurate) and/or site visits of extant historic buildings to check the quality of the models. This allows us to understand the potential and limitations of 3D models based on donated or web-scraped photographs.

One of our major test sites is the World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey near Ripon in the UK. Working in collaboration with colleagues from the National Trust, staff from the Curious Travellers project and other research groups from School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences (SAFS), University of Bradford have been undertaking ground-breaking research at the abbey using cutting-edge technologies. Some aspects of this research have already been publicised (Technology reveals archaeological discovery at Fountains Abbey), while other aspects are still being actively researched. We have even been fortunate to have some of the fabulous students from SAFS, University of Bradford working with us on the project, who have even produced edible 3D models. We particularly enjoyed this type of 3D model!

Image 2: Bek’s gingerbread rendering of Fountains Abbey

The accuracy and precision of the 3D models our team has created of Fountains Abbey and Fountains Abbey with GPR allows us to be certain about the models we create from your donated images.

Image 3: A pointcloud model of the main building complex at Fountains Abbey World Heritage Site

Sometimes the models will be of entire sites, while othertimes the team will concentrate on only one building, such as the model of the Guest House at Fountains Abbey created by our student Bek.

Image 4: A 3D model of the Guest House at Fountains Abbey World Heritage Site

We are very grateful for any images you choose to share with us, and hope the contribution we are making to preserving heritage is worthy of them: get involved