Download this episode as an mp3 or Subscribe via iTunes

More information about Marshall Millet’s project can be found here.

Ammons:        Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Marshall Millet, owner of MMars 4-D. Today they are talking about Millet’s work with U.C. Davis and the KeckCAVES visualization facility.

Church:           Marshall, I saw a poster presentation you did at the 3-D Digital Documentation Summit about doing LiDAR scans of sacred Native American sites. Can you tell us more about that project?

Millet:             Absolutely. Thank you for having me here today and putting on the Summit. Altogether it’s just pretty much wrapped up and there’s been all these incredible places for input on 3-D data and what it means for archeology and preservation, all these ideas and then all these private institutions as well, so it’s been a phenomenal opportunity to meet and actually converse with people about where this is going in the future.

So for myself, I started exploring 3-D data a little while ago based on a couple of projects I had in the Sierra Nevadas and we just found these rock art sites on these granite cliffs and stuff. I’m from the southwest. I did a lot of archeology out there, and I knew there was abundant rock art in those regions but exploring the Sierra Nevadas has been really interesting because I’m finding out there’s actually pretty much rock art everywhere.

So the best methods for me as an archeologist, exploration of the best methods is really important to me and documenting the rock art and 3-D technologies became a part of that and became a huge interest. But as I did the research and tried to develop a research design to guide people for mitigation for these rock art sites, people knew about it but they weren’t doing it. So that was my interest in general. I was also influenced, I’ve seen some of the work the Smithsonian has done, and I did the literature research and England has been ahead on all this stuff and so it motivated me to really pursue 3-D technology.

So that’s what this started out as was a pilot project, a local pilot project working with some of the tribal groups that I’ve developed these processes and been out in the field with. They knew me and we had a mutual interest in exploring mainly some of these ideas. I wanted to compare the technologies. I wanted to learn about them and figure them out for myself because I wasn’t finding anyone who was doing it. So that’s how the project started but it very quickly turned, once I actually did that field work and I investigated with all of them, so we did stereo photometry of the site, we did laser scanning using, you know, total station 360 phase shifting LiDAR and then we also did white light scanning.

So my ultimate goal, one of the largest influences I have is what it actually means when you get on a site. There’s actually a presence that you feel when you’re recording a site and you’re identifying attributes and artifacts and you’re defining constituents of it. But there’s also an experience that you get from an archeological site or a historic site and my goal with this was how do you convey that, because I’ve had this great opportunity, unique opportunity to be all over the country on projects, places I can never have access to again, and that concept is a problem that tribes face as well or even the general public. They don’t have access to these sites. I was addressing that end of what 3-D digital documentation meant for access. Some of the goals of this, I was imagining ten years down the road, there would be a nice system of putting all this together in a cohesive way and then experiencing it.

So I was imagining somewhere in the future and through a couple of contacts that started getting interested in my project that was starting, they introduced me to a program at UC Davis in California and that was KeckCAVES. The KeckCAVES program is a collaborative effort of thirty or more geologists and earth scientists and hydrologists and computer programmers. Their goal was to create a visualization that allows scientists to access through data and use it as a tool. So Joe Dumit who’s there, he’s the Director of the Science & Technology Center at UC  Davis. His goal, he’s an anthropologist, so he started connecting on these ideas of, you know, we had a similar background platform to work on, anthropology and his work is focused on how scientists access 3-D data and how to use it and what the benefit is.

So in that effort, the KeckCAVES folks, the Director is Louise Kellogg and then Oliver Kreylos is the computer programmer. They put these meetings together and collaboratively attacked how to make a visualization better so you can access the data. So they put together this project. They were originally exploring fault lines and then they were investigating mudslides and stuff like that, and I came to them and I had these site environments and I said I just want to experience a site environment and they hadn’t really approached it from that as a cultural experience yet. So they were really interested in where I was coming with this and part of my goal was to work with the people that have been gracious enough and humble enough to put all this data together.

KeckCAVES 3D Visual

KeckCAVES Immersive 3D Visualization System

I was working with the Maidu Museum and historic site in Roseville, California. So they have there, it’s a very recently developed museum, but they have a trail and it has petroglyphs, but it’s also a sacred site and it’s also protected in that it’s a National Register site and it also has archeology there. But the tribe is very, they manage it and oversee it and are stewards of the site and they work with the museum and everyone. They were the ones that graciously allowed me to do the 3-D project to begin with. But once I had this 3-D data, and we looked, at the Summit at all these amazing examples of people collecting 3-D data from an artifact level, a museum level or from a site environment or big object level, my goal was to completely facilitate context and environment over an archeological site and approach all the scales of collecting that data from a wide general tomography or topography in the surrounding area, then to site environment like trees and things. The setting that you really feel when you’re on that site and put in a virtualization room, which is KeckCAVES and see if there’s a value to experiencing the digital site environment separate from the real site.

So the KeckCAVES, to talk a little bit about it and the technology behind it, is everything as an open source project and you can actually check them out at and it’s a three-walled room about 10 X 10 X 10 feet and its three walls, front-projected, and it’s a floor that’s a mirror and excuse me, the three walls are rear-projected and the floor is front-projected below you. So you take off your shoes so you don’t scratch up the surface and you step in there in your socked feet and little slippers and it uses shutter glasses and it uses hand-held wireless remotes that you can hold and then it also employs head tracking.

So the question is what does that all mean? It’s hard to put together when you talk about it, and it’s hard to show it on a picture but the idea is that you are actually stepping into your data. So with the walls surrounding you and with the glasses and the 3-D projection, you literally, your data comes alive in front of you and now because of these interaction tools that UC Davis developed to have them interact, you’re in a virtual environment, a full visual virtual environment.

So I wanted to see what it meant for a tribal agency or an archeologist or a managing agency to experience that process. I guess once I had access to KeckCAVES and once they were gracious enough to move forward with the project and bring all this 3-D data in there, it affected me so dramatically, and I was convinced that there was a real value to this. It answered a big question that was on my mind, which was, what to do you with all this data? My original approach was for analytical, scientific, archeological purposes and I want to maintain those methods for that type of analysis because you can use the data to do it but now there is also an experience value. So we did that. We brought the tribes in. We had a couple of different sessions with both the museum and tribal folks and came in and played with the data and has experienced remotely this 3-D environment.

So what does that mean? I’ve been involved with programs and studied the idea of digital diaspora or diaspora in general but digital diaspora, because of our internet and our technology, now is able to connect cultural groups that have disseminated in different areas, and they can maintain a cultural identity through talking and getting ideas and food and all the things that define culture and doing that on the internet. Well something like this can allow digital diaspora to continue to flourish and exist because now, if you can experience the location you can get location used to define culture. It’s a huge part of archeology and a cultural study or a historic background or a context, everything’s location dependent and as our world becomes more and more globalized that’s starting to change. With a digital world like this, it’s changing even more. So I saw a real shift, a cultural shift and I started believing that KeckCAVES or a visualized virtual environment is going to affect this.

So my research questions were what is the value, what does it mean for the tribes, how can they use it. So the next future of that or where the project is now going is to collect 3-D data at a few more sites. So that you can and we actually, I recently did this, we’ve been working with some wonderful folks at Tahoe National Forest and the DLM office, the Redding branch, trying to get a few more sample sites so the idea is you can remote access sites at a very wide distance apart. So now you can start comparing rock art or whatever archeological constituents that are out there, if it’s a historic building that is colonial in Massachusetts and maybe you have an early colonial piece here in the City of San Francisco, you can bring those environments together and you can start experiencing them independent of location. That is such a big idea that I want to continue going there. I think it has a huge utility and they had so many ideas too, because I had my own ideas as an archeologist, but as a people in this cultural, groups can come in there and they’re going to develop their own ideas of how it has a use and utility.

So there’s some pretty exciting ideas and a lot of them were actually based on artifacts. They like to see baskets in there, they like to visualize the basket weaving and the process and also artifacts that you can’t have people touch all the time can be properly scanned and a 3-D image made of them and then the public can interact. Kids can interact with it on an iPad and you actually get a sense of touch because you’re interacting with the screen. You can manipulate it. So there’s an idea of free exploration that allows people to get a valuable experience from that.

So that’s the next step. The Smithsonian and all the museums in the world have all these artifacts and collections that are out of their geophysical locations now. I would love to see a project develop where exploring and bringing artifacts that have been excavated fifty or seventy years ago, back into the context of their sites and even with CyArk we are obviously seeing some big developments, but if you scan an environment you can use appropriate historic data to give that site agency and even return it to an understanding of what the site was like maybe five hundred years ago or maybe a thousand years ago, bring some of these artifacts back in context and let people interact with it in a way that is hopefully very valuable and very compelling and gives a huge vision of the project in general.

That was however my pilot project turned into a few questions that turned into a different direction and output and then a larger, bigger idea that I hope to continue to work towards.

Church:           I hope to hear from you in the future about how the project is going and you know, what gains you’ve made and what other areas it’s being used in. So we look forward to hearing from you again about the future of this project.

Millet:             Yeah, thank you for having me. There are some great areas to explore and excavate and like you said putting that together and again, it’s just a tool to visualization as a way to give people access. I’m excited about where that can go as well. So thanks for everything you’ve put together for this week and the right people in the right place. It’s a really exciting time both for the technology and archeology in the field in general. So, thank you Jason.

Ammons:        Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information check out our podcast show notes at Until next time, goodbye everybody.

Please follow and like us:

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119