These past few weeks I’ve been pondering what to do for my CHI fellowship project. This has prompted a lot of introspection on what I think is important about digital cultural heritage, along with many internet searches. One of my core beliefs is that archaeology, in some form, should be accessible to the public (this is sometimes referred to as public archaeology, or you can go here for more information on digital public archaeology). This is partly because people need to be invested in our shared past, but also because the public supports archaeological research (in more ways than one). But making it available and helping people understand it are two different things. How do you help the public understand sometimes difficult concepts?
One (I think) cool option for making it easier for people to understand and become engaged with archaeology is through 3D modelling, which has already been discussed in several other blog posts. As I was perusing some of my archaeology news sites this week, I came across an article where researchers had created a 3D rendering of a wealthy family’s home at the site of Pompeii, in Italy. This site was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, which buried much of the city under layers of volcanic ash, preserving the site in situ (in its original, undisturbed location). 3D modelling is great for providing these views of how things looked in the past, like this tour of Rome as it looked circa AD 320. This allows people to get a glimpse of these sites at their height, as well as see some of the results of the archaeological research that has been done on them. Significant research goes into recreating these sites as they would have looked 2000 years ago.
Models such as these make sites that may not be accessible for a variety of reasons (cost, distance to travel, general accessibility) accessible to anyone with a computer. Whether you have bad knees and can’t walk great distances, or just can’t afford the cost of flying to a foreign country, you can still experience what it feels like to be amid these important sites, while also experiencing results of the research done there.
If you are just interested in viewing some of the more well-known sites from afar, 3D imaging allows for that now as well. You can use Google maps to do street views of many popular archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge, Pyramids of Giza, Chichén Itzá, Machu Picchu, or the Colosseum in Rome. While these views don’t provide any interpretations of the sites, they do open the door on the conversation, and allow greater accessibility to places that are of great historical importance. Hopefully this can be a start to prompting additional research and more in depth thought on these sites and what they mean, while also being another avenue for digital public archaeology.
While I highly advocate for greater accessibility to important places such as these, and for cool new ways of providing archaeological interpretations such as through modeling of sites as they looked at their peak, this greater accessibility does lead to some issues. Increased awareness and increased tourism can lead to greater risk for the site and its preservation, in the forms of looting, vandalism, or just through additional traffic by tourists (for more information on the effects of tourism, check out this article: Tourism and Archaeological Heritage). At the same time, these digital representations help preserve the sites in one, static form. As of yet, there is no easy answer on how to rectify this. There are many challenges yet to be overcome, but this is an exciting direction to see things headed in.