Scott Williams

Scott Williams

Research student, Archaeology, School of History, Archaeology and Religion

Why create a digital landscape model of Saqqara?

Modern technology enables the construction of digital models, allowing the visualisation of archaeological sites and landscapes that may no longer be wholly extant. These models are often technology driven, rather than research led. This ongoing research project is applying digital technologies to generate a new three-dimensional model to visualise and diachronically reinterpret the complex ritual landscape of North Saqqara, the site of Egypt's first pyramid and the necropolis of Memphis, the country's earliest capital city.

This innovative approach at reinterpretation and evaluation has not been previously undertaken. Producing a comprehensive multi-layered three-dimensional depiction of the necropolis will advance our knowledge of ancient Egyptian ritual practice and provide the opportunity to critically assess the contribution and benefits of digital technologies alongside more traditional media (e.g. historic and modern hard-copy maps) in landscape studies more generally.

This approach will yield not only a valuable tool for understanding a period of the history of North Saqqara, during which there were significant expansions to the animal cults present at the site as well as significant numbers of human burials (often thought to be associated with them) but will also provide the foundation for projects expanding on this technology.  In so doing the effectiveness of this digitally based approach can be tested. Future projects based on this foundation may wish to refine chronological period granularity down to specific dynasties and even sub-phases within those dynasties. Through this approach the interpretation of diachronic development could be clarified through visualisation techniques.

The project can be summarised as follows:


To determine

  1. If the digital model offers innovative or enhanced understandings over and above traditional research methodologies into the complex ritual monuments, their inter-relationships and their setting within the landscape
  2. If this type of technology would be beneficial in guiding further research
  3. What are the limitations and benefits of this type of digital research
  4. If this type of research is practicable


Necessary in order to achieve the above aims:

  • Archival research of dating and cartographic information relating to the necropolis
  • Research computer software to determine the most appropriate program(s) with which to undertake the study
  • Construct an interpretive digital landscape model of the Saqqara plateau
  • Analyse the model to determine the most appropriate data to collect
    Gather and organise data for analysis.


In summary this project offers the opportunity to understand the landscape of North Saqqara diachronically, taking full and proper account of earlier monuments and in so doing attempt to understand whether or not they were known to exist by those who constructed monuments during the Late Period.  If the new digital technologies prove useful in this quest then they will offer a platform which can be developed for other periods at Saqqara (based on this work) and applied more widely to other sites.

Research interests

  • Egyptian Late Period mortuary practice and its place within the landscape
  • The application of CAD and GIS in archaeological practice
  • 3D modelling and virtual representations within archaeological landscape studies


Visualising a complex ritual landscape: evaluating digital technologies in the reinterpretation of Late Period North Saqqara

This project is applying digital technologies to visualise and diachronically reinterpret the complex funerary landscape of North Saqqara. The project is employing archival research to facilitate the creation and implementation of a traditional two-dimensional GIS (Geographical Information System) and is developing beyond this through the construction and investigation of three-dimensional modelling of the ancient funerary landscape. The project has specifically set out to investigate the Late Period monuments at North Saqqara and reinterpret their place within the landscape, their relationship to the topography, to other earlier and contemporary features and structures, and to pathways of movement through the terrain.

Funding source

School bursary

Paul Nicholson

Professor Paul Nicholson

Professor in Archaeology

Steve Mills

Dr Steve Mills

Senior Lecturer in IT Applications

External profiles