Artificial Intelligence, 3D Documentation, and Rock Art - Approaching and Reflecting on the Automation of Identification and Classification of Rock Art Images
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2022

Rock art carvings, which are best described as petroglyphs, were produced by removing parts of the rock surface to create a negative relief. This tradition was particularly strong during the Nordic Bronze Age (1700–550 BC) in southern Scandinavia with over 20,000 boats and thousands of humans, animals, wagons, etc. This vivid and highly engaging material provides quantitative data of high potential to understand Bronze Age social structures and ideologies. The ability to provide the technically best possible documentation and to automate identification and classification of images would help to take full advantage of the research potential of petroglyphs in southern Scandinavia and elsewhere. We, therefore, attempted to train a model that locates and classifies image objects using faster region-based convolutional neural network (Faster-RCNN) based on data produced by a novel method to improve visualizing the content of 3D documentations. A newly created layer of 3D rock art documentation provides the best data currently available and has reduced inscribed bias compared to older methods. Several models were trained based on input images annotated with bounding boxes produced with different parameters to find the best solution. The data included 4305 individual images in 408 scans of rock art sites. To enhance the models and enrich the training data, we used data augmentation and transfer learning. The successful models perform exceptionally well on boats and circles, as well as with human figures and wheels. This work was an interdisciplinary undertaking which led to important reflections about archaeology, digital humanities, and artificial intelligence. The reflections and the success represented by the trained models open novel avenues for future research on rock art.


Digital humanities

Faster R-CNN

Machine learning

3D documentation

Rock art


Christian Horn

Göteborgs universitet

Oscar Ivarsson

Chalmers, Data- och informationsteknik, CSE Verksamhetsstöd

Cecilia Lindhé

Göteborgs universitet

Rich Potter

Göteborgs universitet

Ashely Green

Göteborgs universitet

Johan Ling

Göteborgs universitet

Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

1072-5369 (ISSN) 15737764 (eISSN)

Vol. 29 1 188-213


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