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Johannesburg Meetup with guest speaker on microtomography

I am organising another computational archaeology meetup in Johannesburg on the 21st of November. This time the company that I work for (Entelect) is sponsoring a venue and pizza!

This post aims at going a bit more in depth on the topics that will be discussed as well as on the guest speaker and how this meetup came to be.

Let’s start with a short story first. We were on our way to Clarens for a weekend away with my sister in law and her partner. There are a few “dinosaur walks” in Clarens, where a palaeontologist can take you on a hike in the Drakensberg and show you fossilised dinosaur bones and footprints. This sounded really cool and I was obviously geeking out about it. I think it was this geeky moment that triggered my sister in law and her partner to tell me about their friend Viktor the palaeontologist.


Victor is a palaeontology student at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He was part of the ILL/ESRF International Student Summer Programme, which is a 4-week experimental project on the applications of X-ray and neutron science to different fields. His research focused on the use of X-ray microtomography for palaeontology. More specifically, his research was on distribution of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in theropod dinosaurs. I’ll attempt to expand on this later on in this post.

Viktor’s research used micro CT scans, otherwise known as  X-ray microtomography, to analyse the bones of a South African dinosaur Nqwebasaurus thwazi. This technology, which stands for Computerised Tomography, consists of performing a set of X-rays from different angles around the fossil. This yields high quality images of the fossil that can be used to for 3D reconstructions as well as to analyse the internal structure of the fossil.


Two weeks ago I asked my sister in law if she thought Viktor would be willing to do a presentation on his research at a computational archaeology meetup. She put us in touch and he was excited to do it. His 30 minute talk will be split into the following main sections:

  • Introduction to microtomography
  • Why is the synchrotron data preferred?
  • Distribution of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in theropod dinosaurs (his research topic)
  • Data calling for the revision of theropod phylogeny

Yes, I too was super confused when I saw these words and was reminded that English is my third language. Let’s get some definitions down.

I’ve already briefly explained above what microtomography is. Synchrotron refers to a powerful source of X-rays produced by electrons moving in a circle. This is just another way of getting X-ray imaging different to the classical tube-based CT scans. Viktor will be explaining why this type of scan is generally preferred. If you want some more detail regarding the different processes – this paper goes quite a bit in depth regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The next thing to explain is Viktor’s topic itself: “Distribution of postcranial skeletal pneumaticity in theropod dinosaurs”. Postcranial skeletal pneumaticity refers to the presence of air spaces within bones separated from the skull. Theropods are a group of bipedal dinosaurs. Now that we know that the separate terms in the title mean, we can conclude that the talk will be on the distribution of air spaces within the bones of bipedal dinosaurs.

Lastly, Viktor will show us some data that “calls for the revision of theropod phylogeny”. Phylogeny refers to the evolutionary history of an organism, in other words, the evolutionary tree of a species. In his talk, he will show us data that he has discovered that may change what we know as the evolutionary history of theropod dinosaurs.


During the meetup I will also be doing a very short talk introducing computational archaeology. This is so that people that joined the meetup in order to find out what this strange concept is can gain some basic knowledge on the subject before diving into a very specialised talk. This talk will open the meetup and also allow me to introduce Viktor as the guest speaker.

So now that you have a bit more detail regarding the meetup, come join! Here are the details:

  • Meetup page
  • Date: 21st November 2016
  • Time: 18:30
  • Location: Entelect HQ – Unit 13, 2nd floor, 3 Melrose Boulevard, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg
  • Why: cool talks and pizza

If you want even more info on our speaker you can check out the following:

I hope to see some of you there! Let’s learn more about the digital humanities of South Africa 🙂

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Exploring museums with Google Maps

My husband was exploring Berlin through Google Maps Streetview. He came to show me that Streetview in Berlin allows you to explore inside quite a few shops. While we virtually walked around Berlin together we got to Museum Island, where most of the museums in Berlin are situated. We then decided to see if we can go inside and it turns out we can!

Google maps allows you to explore museums from the comfort of your home, sharing  rich collections with those not fortunate enough to experience them in person. The experience is the same as walking on the streets with StreetView.

The mobile application also has the option to move the phone around to explore the museums. This functionality allows users with virtual reality headsets (including the Google Cardboard) to explore the museums in a more immersive way.

Here are some links to the Museums in Berlin that we explored:


A hint that you can walk around a museum (which Streetview gives you) is the highlighting of the paths that you can take inside the museum. This highlighting occurs when holding the little Streetview man. Here is an example of the paths shown for one of the Museums in Berlin:


The blue dots are spots where you can stand with the Streetview man. The light grey/blue lines shown in the National Gallery, on the other hand, suggest that you can walk around with the Streetview man.

After we discovered this I started looking for a list of the museums that one can visit in this fashion around the world. This lead me to the discovery of Google’s Museum Views. I was impressed to find out that there are 1399 Museums documented by Google on this site! The project goes beyond that as it is part of a larger project called “Google Arts and Culture”. This larger project allows you to also explore opera houses, historical sites, etc.

You can find the large list of what can be explored on Museum Views here. There is even a scuba dive which you can join here.

I highly recommend that you try out these virtual museums. This is a great experience. This may also be a good guide for you to choose museums and historical sites to visit during your next holiday.


I am very glad that Google is doing this. It is a great effort for preservation as well as for historical education.

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Computational Archaeology Documentaries


I’m busy working through a bunch of documentaries when cooking. I found that the Archaeology section of Documentary Heaven is more focused on computational archaeology than I would have imagined. Here is the list that I have found so far:

I think that’s enough to keep you (and me) busy for a while. Happy learning 🙂


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Collaborative digital archaeology primer

Shawn Graham from the Electric Archaeology blog has created a Github project called DAP. This projects aims to gather people across the Computational Archaeology community to work on a digital archaeology primer.

The aim of this primer is to gather basic information about computational archaeology from the community. This information can then be used to teach archaeologists about the use of technology in archaeology. Additionally, it can help anyone interested to find the information that they need about digital archaeology in an organised manner.

Become part of the community by contributing to the Digital Archaeology Primer Github repository. I’ve made my first contribution to the photogrammetry section today, hopefully it is actually useful and makes it through.

See you on Github!



Progress for the Meetup in Johannesburg

The meetup is doing well!

We now have 24 members of the Computational Archaeology Meetup group in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Our first meeting will be at Wolves in Illovo on the 20th of July. It is aimed at getting to know each other, after which we’ll know more about each other’s skills and be able to organise some presentations/workshops. We have 8 guests that have confirmed the actual invitation so far, which can be found here: http://www.meetup.com/Computational-Archaeology-Meetup/events/231944654/

Any enthusiasts are welcome to join though. One does not have to have a Meetup account to be able to see the invitations and come along.

I look forward to meeting you all 🙂

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Computational Archaeology Meetup in Johannesburg

Hello fellow digital humanities enthusiasts living in/near Johannesburg South Africa. I’ve decided to start a computational archaeology  meetup group. In this meetup I hope to encourage a larger interaction between digital humanities enthusiasts in South Africa.

Depending on the interest we can either have a relaxed discussion or set up some presentations.

Here is the link to the meetup:  http://www.meetup.com/Computational-Archaeology-Meetup/ .

Let’s try to do a meetup in July and see how it goes. Hope to see you there! 🙂


3D modelling with a smart phone

Today I tried out the application called 123D Catch. This app allows you to capture images of an object and creates a 3D model from these. In other words, this is a photogrammetry app.

To use the application you take images of the object that you want to model from a set of different angles by walking around the object. You then get a chance to review the photographs to remove any blurry images. Once reviewed you accept the images and these get uploaded to a server which creates the 3D model.

The application also provides a website where your models can be managed and more models can be explored. The website can be found here.

I did find that the process takes quite a while. First the upload of the images can take some time, especially if you phone’s camera takes high resolution images. In addition to this delay the actual creation of the 3D model takes quite a bit of time.

You can play with the 3D model here and you can see more details here. It actually ended up being a very good 3D model, so worth the wait 🙂

3d capture.PNG

There is also an app provided by them which I can’t try as I don’t have compatible devices. This app is called 123D Sculpt+  and it allows one to create 3D models from scratch via a smart device.