Using 3D Photogrammetry to Recreate Features of the Past

Photogrammetry has become a helpful tool for archaeologists to recreate features that would have otherwise been lost after excavation. During a recent excavation at Fort Fisher, conducted by staff at Commonwealth’s Virginia office, this technology was shown to be extremely useful in documenting and recording the hidden infrastructure of a Civil War fort.

Photogrammetry methodology is based around taking multiple photographs of an object or feature, then building a point cloud and 3D surface based on the object in focus. To create the 3D model, staff uses software that allow us to retain the rights to the photographs so that there is no conflict in ownership. These 3D objects can be viewed at angles that are not possible in the field and can be used to verify measurements, draw profiles and create images, and serve as a dynamic model to reference when writing reports. At high resolution, the software can even be used to create 3D models of artifacts. Having this capability drastically changes the level of detail archaeologists can provide about the excavations.

Commonwealth’s Northern Virginia staff gained the capability to use this software after noticing its success at Fort Fisher. The Fort Fisher project was a partnered effort with the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology (OSA). Commonwealth’s archaeologists excavated seven test units to investigate three GPR anomalies that revealed burned and collapsed wooden passageways and bombproofs associated with the Civil War fort. During these excavations, Commonwealth worked with OSA to create 3D photogrammetry models of the anomalies, helping archaeologists to clearly identify their dimensions and structural characteristics. David Hanley (Project Archaeologist at Commonwealth Heritage Group, Inc.) states, “I really wanted to learn how to use this software after working on our Phase II at Fort Fisher State Historic Site. The State Archaeologists from North Carolina taught me how to collect the data and I saw tremendous value in the final product.”

Learning this technology and bringing the ability in-house has been an asset to staff and clients. It allows Commonwealth to provide clients with a digital model of features that may have been destroyed through the excavation process, creating an image to use in their historic research projects and design and marketing endeavors. This can be a less time-consuming alternative to drawing in features if there is a time crunch on a project’s deadline and provide a more in-depth analysis of the feature in an office setting because you can manipulate the model in ways that were otherwise impossible in the field.

If you have any questions about this methodology, please feel free to contact Chuck Goode ( or David Hanley ( for more information or to request assistance.


Back to News