Conventions and Emerging Standards
More than Pretty Pictures of the Past: an American Perspective on Virtual Heritage
by Donald H. Sanders
We have seen enormous growth, over the years, in the ways in which 3D computer technologies have been applied to the goals and problems of cultural heritage interpretation, documentation, and preservation. This paper draws directly on the author’s experience as architect, archaeologist and owner of two companies specializing in Virtual Heritage, both of which routinely work with archaeologists, other historians, museums, schools, and governments to create vivid visualizations of past places and events.
While simply shaded massing models have given way to complexly lit and detailed virtual worlds, we nevertheless are still not where we should be in many aspects of our results, and how we do what we do is still a mystery to many. This paper touches on the following topics:
- How archaeology has traditionally dealt with the evidence trail, with special focus on the use of images as documentation;
- How digital archaeology has changed the rules and how the discipline is trying to cope;
- How virtual heritage projects can solve many problems relating to data trails, allowing researchers to compare the evidence to the outcome, and to have virtual worlds become visual indexes to all the information, and thus more than pretty pictures of the past; and
- How some of these issues have been handled in projects undertaken by the author’s two companies: Learning Sites and the Institute for the Visualization of History.
Figure 5.1 Donald H. Sanders (left) as a conventional field architect working at Ancient Corinth (1972); and (right) giving an interview on Dutch television from inside the virtual reality model of the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (2000). Photography © 1972 Donald H. Sanders; rendering © 2000 Learning Sites
Figure 5.2 Sample renderings from various projects by Learning Sites and the Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc. © 2006 Learning Sites and the Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Figure 5.3 Rendering of the interior courtyard of the House of Many Colours, Olynthus, Greece, from the Learning Sites virtual reality model © 2000 Learning Sites, Inc.
Figure 5.4 Screen shots and a rendering from the Buhen virtual world, showing the avatar guide leading a virtual tour and accessing the linked information about the site from a virtual kiosk, one of several scattered around the virtual environment; archaeological data and interpretations by Timothy Kendall, Bill Riseman and Donald H. Sanders © 1996 and 2005 Learning Sites, Inc.
Figure 5.5 Screen grab from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project digital excavation report, interim version, showing the various data frames, including the cross-linked search engine, virtual re-creation of one of the trenches, local and global indexes, and general text © 2001 Learning Sites, Inc.
Figure 5.6 Sample renderings from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud (Assyria) virtual world; archaeological data and interpretations by Samuel M. Paley, Richard P. Sobolewski and Alison B. Snyder © 2005 Learning Sites, Inc.
Figure 5.7 Screen grab from an interim version of the Northwest Palace, Nimrud, virtual world research resource, showing the links between objects in the virtual world, such as wall reliefs, and the reference items pulled from a linked database © 1999 Learning Sites, Inc.
Figure 5.8 Photographs showing recent damage done to the reliefs and inscriptions at the Northwest Palace due to looting attempts, natural decay, and gun battles. Photographs courtesy of and © 2003 Mark Altaweel
Figure 5.9 Rendering from our virtual re-creation of the Tantura B shipwreck and a photograph of the remains. Photograph courtesy of and © 2001 Shelley Wachsmann; rendering © 2003 Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Figure 5.10 Screen grab from the excavation report digital supplement showing the virtual shipwreck, interactive plan, and linked database information © 2003 Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Figure 5.11 Rendering from the Kyrenia shipwreck virtual world showing the remains of the ship as excavated © 2006 Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Figure 5.12 Screen grabs from our virtual reality models of the Gurob ship. The upper image shows the main pieces of the ship reconstructed in its current condition; the lower image depicts a reconstruction of the original ship. The lower image also shows (in the lower left) the button that turns the sliders on and off and the sliders that affect the positions of various elements of the ship © 2007 Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
Figure 5.13 Screen grabs from our 'java panel' showing how the 'time slider' works to change the virtual world, by fading away the as-reconstructed elements back to the only the s-excavated features, for direct comparison © 2001 Learning Sites, Inc.
Figure 5.14 Screen grabs from our ‘java panel’ showing how objects in the virtual world are linked to several databases containing text and image background information © 2001 Learning Sites, Inc.