000 rus sphinx 000Last year during the premiere of Giza 3D, Marc Chartier of Pyramidales and I had a chance to talk with Egyptologist Rus Gant, lead technical artist for the Giza Archives Project and Giza 3D.  In transcribing presentations from last year, I came across this fascinating “lost” discussion, and after working with Rus and Marc to clarify some points, we can now present it in an interview format for your enjoyment.  From the resources used to create Giza 3D to George Reisner’s ongoing legacy, join us for a chat with Rus Gant.

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Giza 3D, the most accurate representation of the Giza Plateau, avaialble for you to explore online.


Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  Giza 3D is about the most ancient past and the most modern technology coming together.  One of the really interesting ways that modern technology is being used is in what is called “satellite archaeology”.  How important is satellite imagery to Giza 3D?


Rus Gant:  For modeling purposes we need the best satellite and aerial photography available.  We have access to a very large collection of satellite photography from NASA and other sources, such as the German global view satellite which has 50 cm resolution and is available in stereo.


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Talking with Rus Gant (right), Boston, 2012 (Photo by Anne Payne).


Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  So your satellite imagery is better than Google Earth?


Rus Gant:  Yes, much better.  There is much better resolution and you can have it in different wavelengths—infrared, invisible light, we have a full range which is not available to Google Earth.  In addition to satellite photography we have aerial photography and our GIS map database of over a hundred historical maps of Giza.  We draw on all of these resources to build the model.


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Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  In this age of satellite photography, how important is aerial photography for building Giza 3D and surveying the Giza Plateau in general?


Rus Gant:  The aerial photography is very important because we have it for over more than 100 years. For every two to three years we have a new aerial photograph so we can watch excavations, we can see the plateau change, roads come and go and the plateau evolves over time.  The aerial photography is an incredibly good resource.


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Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  So the older and the newer aerial photography is useful?


Rus Gant:  Yes.  We even have photography from the German airship, Graf Zeppelin which visited the pyramids in 1931.  We have images from two albums from passengers who were taking pictures as the zeppelin circled the pyramids.  Of course they are not as useful as some of the other aerial photography because of the low resolution.  The best is the military photography.  We use photography from the RAF, from the German Air Force, the American Air Force, and the Egyptian Air Force.  Even from World War I, the military back then had the best cameras, they were using very large plate cameras, so you have the best resolution.


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Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  What is one of the more interesting parts of Giza 3D to you?


Rus Gant:  The settlement area in the Menkaure Valley Temple is one of the most interesting areas to me in a lot of ways.  In the settlement area of the Valley Temple you have the closest representations of daily life in ancient Egypt at the time of the pyramids.


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Giza 3D – Looking down on the priests’ settlement in Menkaure’s Valley Temple


Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  One does not normally think of a temple area as a settlement.  Why would we have good settlement representation in Menkaure’s Valley Temple?


Rus Gant:  Through much of its history the priests who were assigned to the temple had their living quarters in the courtyard, and so it was basically a ramshackle dormitory for priests.  When George Reisner discovered the valley temple it had been buried for most of its’ existence, so the settlement area never eroded away.  So outside of the builder’s village that Mark Lehner is excavating and documenting, the settlement area of Menkaure’s Valley Temple has some of the best settlement architecture and information we have from Giza.  In fact, in some ways it is better preserved than Mark’s village.  And of course Reisner reburied the temple site, so as Mark is re-excavating he is rediscovering what Reisner had reburied.

In Reisner’s notes there is a place where he said that they were reburying the area for protection of the monument remaining and because in 100 years they will know better how to excavate it and they will return.  And he was right.  Mark Lehner’s team returned in exactly 100 years—2010—and Reisner finished his excavation in April of 1910.  And when Mark closes it up it will be set to come back to 100 years from now.


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Giza 3D – The priests’ settlement in Menkaure’s Valley Temple


Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  Is reburying a part of Reisner’s legacy?  Don’t we do that today as well?


Rus Gant:  Absolutely, backfilling is a protection mechanism, especially when you have mudbrick architecture, anything that can be eroded needs to be protected from the elements.  Backfilling protects it.  Also, reserving anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of the site for future excavation is now common.  It is becoming much more normal now to excavate less of the site and instead do sampling, find the very specific things you want, and then leave large areas untouched for future archaeologists.  So in that sense Reisner was quite ahead of his time with his methodology—not just with his recording techniques, but with his foresight to preserve the site for the future.


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Em Hotep/Pyramidales:  Does any other way come to mind in which Reisner was ahead of his time?


Rus Gant:  Yes, in his combined scientific teams.  By drawing in a variety of disciplines he was setting the standard for what would follow.  A mixture of Egyptologists and specialists—pottery specialists, architects, artists…  He was one of the first to create a major team like that.  And now of course it has become standard.


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Mehdi Tayoubi, Rus Gant and Peter Der Manuelian putting Giza 3D through a trial run at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 2012 (Photo by Anne Payne)




Copyright by Keith Payne and Marc Chartier, 2013.  All rights reserved.

Images from Giza 3D copyrighted by Dassault Systèmes, Harvard University, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, used with permission, all rights reserved.  All photography by Anne Payne is copyright by Anne Payne, all rights reserved.  All other photography is in the public domain.


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This entry was posted on Friday, April 5th, 2013 at 8:57 pm and is filed under Giza 3D. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 comments so far

Susan Leogrande Alt

Ok – the article is interesting. More interesting to me are the photos. Am I seeing it correctly Keith? Are there, starting with the bottom almost level with the ground, 5 more-or-less, “notches” and if so, do these match up with Jean-Pierre’s inner ramp placement?

Now, on to the article … it is interesting to see how this man Rus Gant bridges the gaps. He lives in the between … between the era of the oldest photos and the now … with our ability to store these images, gather sat images and combine them for moving, pictoral timelines of areas like the Giza 3d projects. Bravo!

April 5th, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Very nice! Thank you! 🙂

April 6th, 2013 at 4:15 am
Jean-Pierre HOUDIN

Hi Keith,
Another very good surprise reading this interview with Russ Gant.
Menkaure Temple becoming a settlement, an unexpected information about the life of the temples throughout time
Nice pictures too…With the DC3 and from the Zeppelin…Nice notch…as usual 😉

April 6th, 2013 at 4:20 am

Hi Susi,

Good observations and questions, as usual! I am assuming you are talking about the picture from Graf Zeppelin, which seems to show a number of “niches”. I agree, they sure look like niches! The only thing that makes me hold off a little bit is that Jean-Pierre has been over Khufu’s Pyramid pretty much inch by inch when he modeled it with the team from Dassault Systemes, and I am pretty sure that if he was able to find evidence for four or five niches he would have been all over that.

So why do they appear so plainly on the Graf Zeppelin photo? I would postulate that it is due to a combination of lower resolution from the Graf Zeppelin photos, plus shadows and debris placement. There may be even better theories, but that is where my thinking goes. But definitely keep looking and letting us know your observations!

Take it easy!

April 6th, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hi Diana,

Thank you! It was a very enjoyable conversation and a great memory. The conversation recorded here took place at Rus’ office which was where I had my first close-up experience with Giza 3D. Rather than experiencing it on desktop as we do with the internet version, I had on this large immersive 3D headgear type thing and was using a controller like you would use with an X-Box, and I was flying around the Giza Plateau like Superman! And it was in actual stereo 3D. What a memory!!

Doing this conversation in interview format brought back all of those memories. And of course, any time I can spend time with Marc Chartier, who is a very dear friend, is always a great memory. His version of this interview in French will be available from Pyramidales in the next day or two, so be on the look out for that, it will be announced on Facebook.


April 6th, 2013 at 10:21 am

Hi Jean-Pierre,

Merci, my friend! Rus is a great guy, as you know, and his knowledge of the Giza Plateau and George Reisner is encyclopedic and he is really wonderful about sharing what he knows. He not only did the interview, but worked with Marc and I to get it ready for publication by looking over the draft and making many edits and changes to clarify points, he also provided much of the photography (all of the black and white) from the Giza Archives, and he provided a last-minute image, the updated image of the Sphinx for the lead-in graphic, to make sure that everything looked really great. This was really more of a collaboration than just an interview, and I am very honored to have had this opportunity.

In the near future (next couple of weeks) be on the lookout for another interview with a member of the Giza 3D team, Rachel Aronin. I think we might learn some more about the modeling of the tomb of Meresankh, one of the most beautifully decorated tombs on the Giza Plateau and a favorite of anybody who has seen it. Marc and I (and I suspect you as well!) have had a look at the model when Giza 3D premiered, although it is still in the works, and can say that it is stunning.

More to come! And of course, we are very eagerly awaiting the next chapter in your own work, which also uses the amazing 3D technology of Dassault Systemes, which drives the technical end of Giza 3D. 2013 is going to be a benchmark year for this technology and Egyptology. And you can be sure Em Hotep will be in the front row to cover it as it breaks. That I can promise!

Have a great weekend!

April 6th, 2013 at 10:31 am

V. nice and I’m looking forward to more! Unfortunately, because of our stoneage linkages to the Outer World here in Burundi, I cannot enter the 3d site – but enjoy learning about it!

Take care –
dianabuja in the middle of africa…

April 7th, 2013 at 2:02 am
Jean-Pierre HOUDIN

Hi dianabuja

Send me an e-mail address at jphoudin@wanadoo.fr

Take care


April 12th, 2013 at 12:41 pm

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