Documenting Material Culture: 3D Laser Scanning, Photogrammetry and Archaeological Ceramics from Lincoln Pottery Works

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Effie F. Athanassopoulos

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  2. 2. Aaron Charles Pattee

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

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This poster explores the application of laser scanning and photogrammetric recording methods to archaeological ceramics excavated from a former pottery factory in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. As 3D modeling methods continue to become more user-friendly and affordable, they offer an attractive alternative for artifact documentation, analysis and sharing of data, compared to the traditional methods of photography and profile drawings. Several studies have utilized 3D scanning for accurate data acquisition, including 2D profiling, and the calculation of attributes that are harder to measure by traditional means, e.g. volume, surface area, and symmetry. Furthermore, the 3D models can become part of digital publications and form the basis for the creation of new digital resources.
Here we are presenting 3D models created with two different methods: laser scanning and photogrammetry. We used a Next Engine 3D laser scanner, a portable scanner, suitable for small to medium-sized artifacts. The scanner generates 3D point clouds and also records texture. The texture is not high resolution, so it is not as sharp as high quality digital photographs. Multiple views are needed to create a complete model. The model requires editing (trimming, aligning, fusing) and, depending on the complexity of the object, it can take from one to two hours for a complete edited model. The 3D models created with the laser scanner are very accurate; they include any surface lines, indentations, breaks, imperfections, etc. We also use photogrammetry in order to improve upon texture and to compare the accuracy of the photogrammetric models with the 3D laser scanner models. All photographs are taken with a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera. Agisoft Photoscan Pro is used for the alignment, dense cloud, mesh, and texture for each model. Additional trimming and modifications are completed with CloudCompare (an open source 3D point cloud processing software). The combination of both methods allows for precise replication and creation of high resolution models. It also facilitates multiple types of analysis.
The case study is the Lincoln Pottery Works (LPW), in Lincoln, NE, USA, which operated from 1880 until around 1903. The inventory of the LPW centered on utilitarian, domestic wares. It produced crocks, jugs, bowls, jars, lids, flower pots, planters, architectural terra cotta and other types of ceramics. Ceramic technology developed rapidly during this period to include semi-mechanized means of forming pots, known as “jigging” or “jollying,” which allowed for mass production of vessels. LPW also exhibits the latest innovations in nineteenth-century kiln design in the form of downdraft kilns. When the LPW was founded, Lincoln was a prosperous and rapidly growing city with a population of c. 13,000 in 1880 which had increased to 55,000 in 1890 (Bleed and Schoen, 1990: 34). After the factory closed, most of the property became part of a housing development. The site was excavated by Peter Bleed in 1986-1987, and the results were published in 1993. The LPW collections are currently in the Nebraska State Historical Society.
This is a pilot project and a work in progress. The digital recording of representative types of LPW ceramics through 3D interactive models is the first step in the creation of an online exhibit and digital resource. Currently, we are documenting the most common types of ceramics produced by LPW. The LPW collection is extremely large. For example, the estimated number of bowls is 5,633 vessels and represent 38.45% of the assemblage. Thus, our goal is to document a representative sample of the collection, we do not plan to document the collection fully. Once the pilot phase is completed, we will make the 3D models, along with other content, available on a website (in collaboration with the Nebraska State Historical Society).
The digitization project will facilitate different kinds of analysis that build on the original publication of the results; for example, the distribution of LPW products in other Midwestern states (the records of the business have not been preserved), socioeconomic aspects, food ways, a gendered perspective, etc. The first step, however, is to create a digital resource that will draw attention to this collection and engage other researchers and the public. By utilizing the latest technology to create and present accurate models of LPW representative products, we hope to bring wider attention to this important assemblage, which is an integral part of the history of nineteenth century Nebraska and the industrial archaeology of the Great Plains region.


Bleed, P. and Schoen, Ch. (1990). The Lincoln Pottery Works: A Historical Perspective.
Nebraska History,
71: 34-44.

Schoen, Ch. and Bleed, P. (1993). The Archaeology of the Lincoln Pottery Works.
Central Plains Archaeology,
3(1): 1-240.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2016
"Digital Identities: the Past and the Future"

Hosted at Jagiellonian University, Pedagogical University of Krakow

Kraków, Poland

July 11, 2016 - July 16, 2016

454 works by 1072 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (11)

Organizers: ADHO