Conventions and Emerging Standards
Setting Standards for 3D Visualization of Cultural Heritage in Europe and Beyond
by Franco Niccolucci
By the time of the publication of Virtual Reality in Archaeology in 20001, an awareness of the necessity of critically analyzing the impact of computer reconstructions was rapidly spreading in the research community, producing both academic debate and publications (including, notably, Roussou’s and Drettakis’ critique, in 2003, of hyperrealism2), and changing practice in the field. In a 2002 paper, ‘The Past, Present and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality’3, Frisher, Niccolucci, Ryan and Barceló have suggested that the interpretive/reconstructive process of model creation, as in the philological analysis of a text, consists of three steps: a verification of sources; an analysis of their reliability; and interpretation/integration of data with the missing parts. The final result, it was argued, should show the traces of this philological work, using signs, perhaps still to be defined in 3D modelling, to denote elements corresponding to interpolations, additions and conjectures.
While many scholars are now aware of the importance of determining and communicating the credibility of a 3D reconstruction, there is still much work to do to define how this can be achieved. This paper will review both the impact and the future promise of The London Charter and related European and international initiatives in defining and meeting this challenge.
EPOCH, an EU-funded project on Intelligent Heritage, considered questions of validity and reliability of computer reconstructions; it was perhaps the first EU technological project to do so. Can people rely on what is shown by visual explanations of heritage? How can they distinguish between scientifically valid communication and fantastic, video-game display? The TroiaVR project, carried out by the University of Tübingen and ART+COM, had similar objectives. The authors define the methodology of virtual reconstructions as ‘based on the same theoretical and methodological principles as an interpretation of archaeological texts’. They state that the ‘inherent limits of archaeology become much more apparent in a visualization than in a text. Their solution: ‘To emphasize the difference between actually excavated remains and free reconstructions, all reconstructions not based on almost complete ground plans can be switched on and off […] plans and images shown on the interface screen […] allow for comparison between excavated remains and reconstructions’.4
Although some methods have been proposed to quantify uncertainty, or at least to communicate it in a meaningful way, and visual metaphors are available, guidelines for documenting how such uncertainty arises and how the modeller devises solutions to overcome it and arrive at a cohesive proposal for a complete model, are still missing. The London Charter has provided much of the conceptual and terminological underpinning for a recently-formed EC Working Group on Standards for 3D Visualization, which aims to produce detailed visualization documentation standards to facilitate Intellectual Transparency and Accountability. This paper elaborates the nature and significance of this and related developments.
1. Juan A. Barceló, Maurizio Forte and Donald H. Sanders (eds), Virtual Reality in Archaeology, BAR International Series 843, (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000).
2. Maria Roussou and George Drettakis, ‘Photorealism and Non-Photorealism in Virtual Heritage Representation’ in Donald Arnold, Alan Chalmers and Franco Niccolucci (eds.), VAST2003 4th International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology, and Intelligent Cultural Heritage, Eurographics Publications (Aire-La-Ville, 2003), 51-60.
3. Bernard Frisher, Franco Niccolucci, Nick S. Ryan and Juan A. Barceló, ‘From CVR to CVRO: The Past, Present and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality’, in Franco Niccolucci (ed.), Virtual Archaeology, (Oxford, 2002), 7-18.
4. Peter Jablonka, Steffen Kirchner and Jordi Serangeli, ‘TroiaVR: a Virtual Reality Model of Troy and the Troad’, in Martin Doerr, and Apostolos Sarris (eds.), The Digital Heritage of Archaeology. Proceedings of the 30th Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology Conference, CAA, Heraklion, Crete, Greece, 2-6 April 2002, (Athens, 2003), 13-18.