Thanks to the latest computer game technology, a digital twin has been created for one of the world’s most important archaeological sites: Uruk.

The method presented by Max Haibt (Department of the Orient of the German Archaeological Institute) involves the efficient three-dimensional recording of 40 square kilometers using a long-range UAV, as well as the development of a virtual research environment where the high-resolution 3D model is available in real-time.

The high resolution and spatial accuracy allow for scientific use, such as the precise determination of points for remote drilling sample extraction or for planning cultural conservation and site management.

The digital twin of Uruk provides important remote sensing data for previously unexplored areas of the vast territory and raises new research questions about the interaction of the city with its environment, especially regarding the ancient river and canal systems.

Map shows the location of Uruk-Warka in southern Iraq, the research area and the region successfully surveyed in 2018-2
Map shows the location of Uruk-Warka in southern Iraq, the research area and the region successfully surveyed in 2018-2. Credit: Max Haibt / German Archaeological Institute

Last but not least, Uruk-VR also offers new opportunities for knowledge transfer and educational work. In the future, the method can significantly improve geographical and archaeological studies, as vertical geoinformation, such as drilling samples, geophysical measurements, and archaeological profiles, can be directly integrated into the extensive landscape model.

The creation of the digital twin was achieved using modern drone technology and innovative 3D image processing methods. The aircraft used has a longer range than other models and an especially long operating time. In just 6 days, more than 32,000 aerial images of the ancient city and its surroundings were taken.

Each image was precisely geotagged and fused into a single georeferenced model using 3D photogrammetry software. The result was a digital twin with a detailed triangulated mesh containing a billion triangles and 1024 texture files at an 8k resolution.

Rendering in a game engine and applying the novel Nanite and Virtual Texture Streaming technologies, this massive dataset can be visualized in real-time. This is possible because Nanite can efficiently compress and transmit 3D data with consistent quality.

In the future, tools similar to GIS will be developed, and various types of spatial data will be integrated. The high-resolution landscape model also provides the basis for contextualizing information gathered over a century of archaeological research.

In the summer of 2024, “guided tours” of the model will initially be offered. Later, Uruk-VR will also be open to the public for independent exploration.


German Archaeological Institute | Haibt, M. (2024). End-to-end digital twin creation of the archaeological landscape in Uruk-Warka (Iraq). International Journal of Digital Earth, 17(1).

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