Survey of 3D digital heritage repositories and platforms

Erik Champion, Hafizur Rahaman


Despite the increasing number of three-dimensional (3D) model portals and online repositories catering for digital heritage scholars, students and interested members of the general public, there are very few recent academic publications that offer a critical analysis when reviewing the relative potential of these portals and online repositories. Solid reviews of the features and functions they offer are insufficient; there is also a lack of explanations as to how these assets and their related functionality can further the digital heritage (and virtual heritage) field, and help in the preservation, maintenance, and promotion of real-world 3D heritage sites and assets. What features do they offer? How could their feature list better cater for the needs of the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector? This article’s priority is to examine the useful features of 8 institutional and 11 commercial repositories designed specifically to host 3D digital models. The available features of their associated 3D viewers, where applicable, are also analysed, connecting recommendations for future-proofing with the need to address current gaps and weaknesses in the scholarly field of 3D digital heritage. Many projects do not address the requirements stipulated by charters, such as access, reusability, and preservation. The lack of preservation strategies and examples highlights the oxymoronic nature of virtual heritage (oxymoronic in the sense that the virtual heritage projects themselves are seldom preserved). To study these concerns, six criteria for gauging the usefulness of the 3D repositories to host 3D digital models and related digital assets are suggested. The authors also provide 13 features that would be useful additions for their 3D viewers.


  • A survey of relevant features from eight institutional and eleven commercial online 3D repositories in the scholarly fieldof 3D digital heritage.

  • Presents a critical review of their hosting services and 3D model viewer features.

  • Proposes six features to enhance services of 3D repositories to support the GLAM sector, heritage scholars andheritage communities.


3D model; portals; repositories; digital cultural heritage; virtual heritage; survey

Full Text:



Aalbersberg, I. J., Cos Alvarez, P., Jomier, J., Marion, C., & Zudilova-Seinstra, E. (2014). Bringing 3D visualization into the online research article. Information Services & Use, 34(1-2), 27-37.

Addison, A. C. (2000). Emerging trends in virtual heritage. IEEE Multimedia, 7(2), 22-25.

Alliez, P., Bergerot, L., Bernard, J.-F., Boust, C., Bruseker, G., Carboni, N., Chayani, M., Dellepiane, M., Dell’unto, N., & Dutailly, B. (2017). Digital 3D objects in art and humanities: Challenges of creation, interoperability and preservation. In White paper: A result of the PARTHENOS Workshop held in Bordeaux at Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine and at Archeovision Lab. (France) (pp. 71). France.

Beacham, R., Hugh, D., & Niccolucci, F. (2009). The London Charter. In For computer-based visualization of cultural heritage (Vol. Draft 2.1).

Bernard, Y., Barreau, J.-B., Bizien-Jaglin, C., Quesnel, L., Langouët, L., & Daire, M.-Y. (2017). 3D model as a dynamic compilation of knowledge: Interim results on the city of Alet. Virtual Archaeology Review, 8(16).

Boutsi, A.-M., Ioannidis, C., & Soile, S. (2019). An integrated approach to 3D web visualization of cultural heritage heterogeneous datasets. Remote Sensing, 11(21).

Calin, M., Damian, G., Popescu, T., Manea, R., Erghelegiu, B., & Salagean, T. (2015). 3D modeling for digital preservation of Romanian heritage monuments. Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia, 6, 421-428.

Champion, E. (2018). The role of 3D models in virtual heritage intrastructures. In A. Benardou, E. Champion, C. Dallas, & L. M. Hughes (Eds.), Cultural Heritage Infrastructures in Digital Humanities (pp. 172). Abingdon, Oxon New York: NY Routledge.

Champion, E. (2019). From historical models to virtual heritage simulations. In P. Kuroczyński, M. Pfarr-Harfst, & S. Münster (Eds.), Der Modelle Tugend 2.0 Digitale 3d-Rekonstruktion Als Virtueller Raum Der Architekturhistorischen Forschung Computing in Art and Architecture (Vol. 2, pp. 338-351). Heidelberg, Germany:

Champion, E., & Rahaman, H. (2019). 3D digital heritage models as sustainable scholarly resources. Sustainability, 11(8), 1-8.

Clarke, M. (2015). The digital dilemma: preservation and the digital archaeological record. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 3(4), 313-330.

Cots, I., Vilà, J., Diloli, J., Ferré, R., & Bricio, L. (2018). La arqueología virtual: de la excavación arqueológica a la gestión y socialización del patrimonio. Les cases de la Catedral (Tortosa) y el yacimiento protohistórico de La Cella(Salou), Tarragona. Virtual Archaeology Review, 9(19).

Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco, P. , Galeazzi, F., & Vassallo, V. (Eds.). (2018). Authenticity and cultural heritage in the age of 3D digital reproductions. Cambridge, UK: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Doyle, J., Viktor, H., & Paquet, E. (2009). Long-term digital preservation: preserving authenticity and usability of 3-D data. International Journal on Digital Libraries, 10(1), 33-47.

Flynn, T. (2019). What happens when you share 3D models online (In 3D)? In J. Grayburn, Z. Lischer-Katz, K. Golubiewski-Davis, & V. Ikeshoji-Orlati (Eds.), 3D/VR in the Academic Library: Emerging Practices and Trends (pp. 73-86). Arlington, USA: Council on Library and Information Resources.

Galeazzi, F., Baker, F., Champion, E., Gartski, K., Jeffrey, S., & Kuzminsky, S. (2018). Commentary on 3-D virtual replicas and simulations of the past : “real” or “fake” representations? Current Anthropology, 59(3), 268-286.

Galeazzi, F., & Franco, P. D. G. D. (2017). Theorising 3D visualisation systems in archaeology: Towards more effective design, evaluations and life cycles. Internet Archaeology(44).

Greenop, K., & Barton, J. (2014). Scan, save, and archive: how to protect our digital cultural heritage. The Conversation, 1.

Guidazzoli, A., Liguori, M. C., Chiavarini, B., Verri, L., Imboden, S., De Luca, D., & Ponti, F. D. (2017, 31 Oct-4 Nov). From 3D Web to VR historical scenarios: A cross-media digital heritage application for audience development. In 2017 23rd International Conference on Virtual System & Multimedia (VSMM), (pp. 1-8) Dublin, Ireland.

Huk, T. (2006). Who benefits from learning with 3D models? the case of spatial ability. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(6), 392-404.

Ioannides, M., & Quak, E. (Eds.). (2014). 3D research challenges in cultural heritage : A roadmap in digital heritage preservation. NewYork, Dordrecht, London: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Khronos, G. (2009). OpenGL ES for the web. WebGL Overview. Retrieved 4 March, 2020, from

Kiourt, C., Koutsoudis, A., Markantonatou, S., & Pavlidis, G. (2016). The ‘synthesis’ virtual museum. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, 16(5), 1-9.

Koller, D., Frischer, B., & Humphreys, G. (2009). Research challenges for digital archives of 3D cultural heritage models. Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage, 2(3), 1-17.

Koutsabasis, P. (2017). Empirical evaluations of interactive systems in cultural heritage: A review. International Journal of Computational Methods in Heritage Science, 1(1), 100-122.

Kuroczynski, P. (2017). Virtual research environment for digital 3D reconstructions : Standards, thresholds and prospects. Studies in Digital Heritage, 1(2), 456-476.

Lloyd, J. (2016). Contextualizing 3D cultural heritage. In M. Ioannides, E. Fink, R. Brumana, P. Patias, A. Doulamis, J. Martins, & M. Wallace (Eds.), Digital Heritage. Progress in Cultural Heritage: Documentation, Preservation, and Protection (Vol. 1, pp. 859-868). Nicosia, Cyprus: Springer International Publishing.

Maiwald, F., Bruschke, J., Lehmann, C., & Niebling, F. (2019). A 4D information system for the exploration of multitemporal images and maps using photogrammetry, web technologies and VR/AR. Virtual Archaeology Review, 10(21).

McHenry, K., & Bajcsy, P. (2008). An overview of 3d data content, file formats and viewers. Retrieved from Urbana, IL:

Muñoz Morcillo, J., Schaaf, F., Schneider, R. H., & Robertson-von Trotha, C. Y. (2017). Authenticity through VR-based documentation of cultural heritage. A theoretical approach based on conservation and documentation practices. Virtual Archaeology Review, 8(16).

Munster, S. (2018, 26-29 June). Digital 3D modelling in the humanities. In Digital Heritage 2018, (pp. 627-629) Mexico.

Münster, S., Pfarr-Harfst, M., Kuroczyński, P., & Ioannides, M. (Eds.). (2016). 3D research challenges in cultural heritage II : How to manage data and knowledge related to interpretative digital 3D reconstructions of cultural heritage. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Newe, A., Brandner, J., Aichinger, W., & Becker, L. (2018). An open source tool for creating model files for virtual volume rendering in PDF documents. In Bildverarbeitung für die Medizin 2018, (pp. 133-138) Berlin, Heidelberg.

Niven, K., & Richards, J. D. (2017). The storage and long-term preservation of 3D data. In D. Errickson & T. Thompson (Eds.), Human Remains: Another Dimension (pp. 175-184): Academic Press.

Pauwels, P., Verstraeten, R., De Meyer, R., & Van Campenhout, J. (2008). Architectural Information Modelling for Virtual Heritage Application. In Digital Heritage–Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Virtual Systems and Multimedia, (pp. 18-23).

Pavlidis, G., Koutsoudis, A., Arnaoutoglou, F., Tsioukas, V., & Chamzas, C. (2007). Methods for 3D digitization of cultural heritage. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 8(1), 93-98.

Pletinckx, D., & Nolle, D. (2015). 3D-ICONS: D5.1-Report on 3D publication formats suitable for Europeana. Retrieved from

Potenziani, M., Callieri, M., Dellepiane, M., Corsini, M., Ponchio, F., & Scopigno, R. (2015). 3DHOP: 3D heritage online presenter. Computers & Graphics, 52, 129-141.

Rabinowitz, A., Esteva, M., & Trelogan, J. (2013, 26-28 September). Ensuring a future for the past. In Proceedings of The Memory of the World in the Digital Age: Digitization and Preservation, (pp. 940-954) Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Rahaman, H., & Champion, E. (2019, 15-18 April). The scholarly rewards and tragic irony of 3D models in virtual heritage discourse. In 24th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer-Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia (CAADRIA 2019), (pp. 695-704) Wellington, New Zealand.

Roussou, M. (2002, 24-25 November). Virtual heritage : From the research lab to the broad public. In VAST Euroconference, (pp. 93-100) Arezzo, Italy.

Scopigno, R., Callieri, M., Dellepiane, M., Ponchio, F., & Potenziani, M. (2017). Delivering and using 3D models on the web: are we ready? Virtual Archaeology Review, 8(17), 1-9.

Snyder, L. M. (2014). VSim : Scholarly annotations in real-time 3D environments. Paper presented at the DH-CASE II: Collaborative Annotations on Shared Environments: metadata, tools and techniques in the Digital Humanities - DH-CASE '14, (pp. 1-8.) Fort Collins, CA, USA.

Statham, N. (2019). Scientific rigour of online platforms for 3D visualisation of heritage. Virtual Archaeology Review, 10(20), 1-16.

Sullivan, E. (2016). Potential pasts: Taking a humanistic approach to computer visualization of ancient landscapes. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 59(2), 71-88.

Sullivan, E., Nieves, A. D., & Snyder, L. M. (2017). Making the model: Scholarship and rhetoric in 3-D historical reconstructions. In J. Sayers (Ed.), Making Things and Drawing Boundaries : Experiments in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Sullivan, E. A., & Snyder, L. M. (2017). Digital Karnak. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 76(4), 464-482.

Thwaites, H. (2013). Digital heritage : What happens when we digitize everything? In E. Ch'ng, V. Gaffney, & H. Chapman (Eds.), Visual heritage in the digital age (pp. 327-348). London, UK: Springer-Verlag.

Tsiafaki, D., & Michailidou, N. (2015). Benefits and problems through the application of 3D technologies in archaeology: Recording, visualisation, representation and reconstruction. Scientific Culture, 1(3), 37-45.

Tucci, G., Bonora, V., Conti, A., & Fiorini, L. (2017). High-quality 3d models and their use in a cultural heritage conservation project. In The International Archives of Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences : 26th International CIPA Symposium 2017, (pp. 687) Ottawa, Canada.

Übel, M. V. (2019). Free 3D models – Best download sites & 3D archives of 2019. Get the Best for Free. Retrieved 12 February, 2019, from

UNESCO. (2003, 29 Sept-15Oct 2003). Charter on the preservation of the digital heritage. In 32nd Session: The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (pp. 74-76) Paris.

Zhang, N., Li, Q., Jia, H., Zhang, M., & Liu, J. (2017). U3D file format analyzing and 3DPDF generating method. In IGTA: Chinese Conference on Image and Graphics Technologies : Advances in Image and Graphics Technologies, (pp. 136-146) Singapore.

Abstract Views

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


  • There are currently no refbacks.


Cited-By (articles included in Crossref)

This journal is a Crossref Cited-by Linking member. This list shows the references that citing the article automatically, if there are. For more information about the system please visit Crossref site

1. Sharing Archaeological Knowledge: The Interactive Reporting System
Paola Derudas, Nicolò Dell’Unto, Marco Callieri, Jan Apel
Journal of Field Archaeology  first page: 1  year: 2021  
doi: 10.1080/00934690.2021.1911132

Creative Commons License

This journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Universitat Politècnica de València

Official journal of Spanish Society of Virtual Archaeology

e-ISSN: 1989-9947