Sorry for the delay over the last couple of weeks. Craig and I were busy with the wonderful 1.0 version of Ryerson University’s B3D Design Conference two Friday’s ago and we’ve both been catching up since the Heritage Toronto event. B3D proved to be an enlightening set of broad based discussions ranging from Virtual Reality to 3D Printing, however I was really impressed with both the awareness and promotion of virtual archaeology and heritage management. Very refreshing to see that non-archaeologists/heritage professionals were also valuing the effort and research being engaged around digital visualization and preservation.
From left to right: Michael Carter, Craig Barr, Athomas Goldberg and Dr. Andrew Nelson
Our session with Athomas Goldberg, Dr. Andrew Nelson and Craig Barr opened up the conference. Craig and I were lucky to be able to present one after the other, so that gave me time to talk about the main theoretical themes of the London Charter; Agency, Authority, Authenticity and Transparency as it applied to our project and the larger considerations for visualization of heritage objects. This helped to frame further discussions during the day when we got into 3D printing and visual representation. Athomas, who has been very active on the gaming engine scene for over 18 years presented some of the real-time interactive work he did for the “Shattered Adam“/Lombardo’s “Adam”exhibition at the MET. Andrew talked about his extensive research into the use of 3D scanning of Mummy’s and other recent fine detailed objects. The notion of “agency” loomed big over our discussion with the audience and the “authenticity” of the 3D scans. Overall, the session proved as a great starting point for future research as public appetite for 3D visualization and printing has become voracious as of late.
During the conference I had been thinking of Paul Reilly, the “father of virtual archaeology”, and his latest work entitled Additive Archaeology: An Alternative Framework for Recontextualising Archaeological Entities. Essentially he’s nailed it once again that 3D printing, like 3D visualization in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, will have a profound effect on how heritage is not only researched but preserved. That our ability to understand the archaeological record through the use of additive manufacturing would extend not only research, but public engagement.
I’ve railed against our misguided notion that digital media will solve everything for years. My students seemed bemused that I’ve spent so much of my career dealing with digital media, that I’m still harking back to the necessity to have some sort of physical material record for future generations, to discover and research. The digital world disintegrates so there also needs to be a material copy in order to ensure a record of some sort. Getting back to Paul’s paper, I realized while sitting through the B3D conference that our Longhouse 3.x would also need more than a digital representation. Conference papers and book chapters, if deemed worthy research, is one way to enable some preservation. However, should we also 3D print Longhouse 3.x so that a physical model of the research exists? If we print the model, is it an artefact? If so, should it be housed within Sustainable Archaeology along with the other Southwestern Ontario archaeological material? Is there a London Charter 3.0 in which we need to include 3D printing as a means to make physical, our virtual archaeology?
In an effort to remain transparent during all stages of the project, I have provided below my B3D presentation entitled Virtual Archaeology, Virtual Longhouses and “Envisioning the Unseen” within the Archaeological Record. The audience at the conference was a broad mix of specialists and knowledge experts, so the presentation reflects this. As discussed, Craig and I broke our presentation out into theory and methodology.
Many thanks to Claire van Nierop and Ron Williamson from ASI for providing the images I used in the slide deck below of various archaeological sites and excavation plans. The iconic image of Indian Jones comes from Lucas Film/Paramount Pictures. The images of Palmira comes from recent on-line news articles from various sources. Finally, Think2Thing (T2T) provided the images of Craig and I speaking at the conference.
Good morning and welcome to the B3D Conference!
As much as we love adventure, this is not the reality of archaeology! However, Archaeology is all about the Narrative!
Unlike Indiana, real archaeologist work in a relatively quiet and substantially less exciting way looking for signs of material artifacts of human occupation. As this material is “discovered” there is a meticulous scientific recording of every detail from the type of soil it was found in to it’s colour, dimensions and it’s proximity and physical association with other artifacts. Those data points are combined with potential Oral and written histories, anthropological observations of other similar cultures and civilizations to build a narrative of meaning. Thus archaeologists make meaning by creating narratives based on the type of artifacts discovered, the environment in which they were found, similarities to other cultures and the scientific data collected.
One of those narrative pain points for Archaeologists studying pre-contact Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction in Canada, is that no structural elements remain in the archaeological record. Unlike the stone structures of Egypt, Greece or Europe, Iroquoian longhouses were made out of wood, which easily decomposes over time. What is left however are “soil stains” of where the wooden posts decomposed or burned within the ground. Locating post hole stains is a challenge, particularly when everything from modern tree roots to collapsed rodent burrows could and are misinterpreted as an actual Longhouse post position. But when we are able to “connect the dots”, a pattern emerges as to the type of structure that was once there. A sea of straws represent where a longhouse might have stood, yet it gives no impression of the magnitude or bearing of the structure itself.
In our particular case, visualizing beyond a 2D map or excavation drawing what a massive longhouse city looked like, or understanding anomalies within the archaeological record, are some of the challenges when dealing with structures that have eroded away throughout the centuries. What the archaeological material, longhouse outlines, pole positions, fire hearths, internal burials or hidden artifacts within the perimeter of these once grand cultural embodiments of community don’t convey is the vast immensity of the space these structures occupied or the phenomenological experience of living within one. Like detectives, we must piece together a narrative using the archaeological data. Oral and written histories, present only one of a multitude of interpretations. Longhouses were living, breathing embodiments of not only the close knit families that built and lived in them, but the community and culture as a whole. 3D visualization can bridge and inform archaeologists in ways a flat 2D representations, oral or written history cannot.
So, how do we transition from static 2D images, or no images at all to a fully immersed virtual environment? In 2008, a group of virtual archaeology researchers got together to develop what is now called “The London Charter”. In this charter, they laid out the theoretical foundations in which all heritage practitioners should use as best practices when visualizing heritage material. They are: Agency, Authority, Authenticity and Transparency. Agency – The Maori of New Zealand among many other cultural groups worldwide, believe that the spirit that embodies a cultural sacred object extends into photographs or even 3D renderings of that object. Thus when reimagining an artifact in physical or digital form, it’s presence or spirit extends into these new representations and are treated equally as one. Agency also denotes the underlying socio-cultural meaning of the object, place or landscape. Thus care should be taken equally when handling virtual or physical heritage. Authority is when a visualization is so hyper real that the viewer believes the visualization to be an accurate, objective, “historical truth”. Further, that the representation is viewed as a singular and only vision and not one of many possible alternatives. Authenticity is when a visualization is based on quantitative data and that data is used as a base to explore and expand beyond the initial data set. Transparency is ultimately the most important element in digital visualization of any historical object, place or landscape. Transparencies byproduct is called “Paradata”, which represents the steps the archaeologist, artists or the researcher took in determining how the visualization would look and why a particular decision was made, by acknowledging all of the elements that have influenced a particular vision. In following The London Charter, the field of archaeology embarked on visualizing a typical Iroquoian Longhouse, while making public through the means of social media, all of our decisions and rationale.
We wanted to reconstruct an Iroquoian Longhouse in virtual reality for a host of reasons. To test the current known data sets to see if what we were recording and researching from the archaeological record, oral and written histories could be representative of a longhouse might have looked like. We wanted to provide a knowledge dissemination process and platform, although primarily for archaeologists, that could be easily accessed by non-archaeologists as well. Further there are larger, very strategic considerations that I will speak about later that this research might help to address. In reconstructing our longhouse, we used years of previously published collected longhouse excavation data from hundreds of archaeological sites in Ontario. That provided a template of dimensions and measurements that could help us visually construct a typical Iroquoian longhouse in 3D. Every detail from the type of rope cordage used, to how the ends of the cut posts, poles and beams would look, and even if there would be hand prints on the poles themselves was discussed and researched through academic papers and the archaeological record. And those decisions, source materials and opinions were recorded on a weekly blog and shared to archaeologists and non-archaeologists through social media.
In Longhouse archaeology there are multiple theories of what and how a longhouse looked and was constructed. The models were created in such a way as to allow for experimental changes. We experimented with multiple building techniques and theories, eventually hacking one representative vision of what a Northern Iroquoian Longhouse might look like. What we attempted to do was play with the ability in 3D space to mix and match, creating hybrids through a multivocal lens. Along the way, each decision becomes a learning moment, raising more questions and observations. Thus as we continued building, recording and sharing, this virtual archaeology process transitioned from being evidenced based to evidence informed through a natural progression allowed by the evolution of technology and growth of capabilities, user experience and expectation.
The “a-ha” moment was that the virtual reconstruction process not only lent itself to the traditional archaeological narrative process, but created new narratives to explore and tease out. Although the end product was a fabulous 3D visualization of one interpretation of the archaeological material, the real bonus is the ability to for all stakeholders to engage with the archaeological data and material in a way unimaginable only a few years ago. The next phase is to give the participant in this virtual space a sense of “presence”. A phenomenological experience in which all senses from sight, sound, touch and eventually smell and taste are actively engaged. SO WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
Archaeology and the artifacts, landscapes and environments today, may not always be around for generations to come. Virtual Reality is one way of preserving these cultural resources. And because of the nature of digital media, we can now share these virtual resources globally, allowing people to experience this precious resource visually, virtually and as we will see later today, physically.
However this is only one part of the story. To get to this stage, a partnership between research and technology, knowledge dissemination and artistic wizardry had to take place. This scientific visualization wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance and expertise of a 3D animation professional; my research partner Craig Barr. Before Craig comes on next to continue our story, I would like to quickly thank ASI and Sustainable Archaeology for graciously funding this project and Ryerson for the opportunity to tell you our story. Thank you.
Craig’s presentation took a technological bent, which included an animated visual walkthrough of the longhouse environment on slide 12, which you can see in Longhouse 3.5.5.
Craig provided a lively presentation on the uses of technology and how the Ocular Rift tool set allowed him to “site inspect” the 3D longhouse model in Maya before sending it over to me for approval. It was yet another way in which the technology is allowing archaeologists to experience the process from a different perspective and inform how the material culture might be interpreted differently.
This discussion will focus more on the practical benefits, rather than on the technical aspects, of the tools available for real-time visualization. Discuss the benefits of using real-time visualization
Research – A virtual experience can be changed or updated based on the latest findings from the field. Different theories or ideas can be experienced and tested rapidly.
Education – an immersive, interactive and effective tool for teaching, a VR application can be shared and experienced anywhere on the planet.
Archival/heritage – preservation, collection of data/knowledge. Experiencing data, research, history from anywhere. Access to all.
Cultural/Socio Impact – A virtual world provides the opportunity to experience a different time, a different place, an opportunity to experience a different culture. (see Edu: global-socio impact)
Craig spoke from memory.
Craig spoke from memory. Image is from the Heritage Toronto event.
Craig spoke from memory. Images from the Toronto Heritage event.
Michael talked about The London Charter and the 4 key aspects: Agency, Authority, Authenticity and Transparency (or Paradata). Here we look at some negatives to be considered in the Visualization process.
Discuss the potential negatives with 3D visualization: Artistic license Inaccuracies in environment/surroundings Providing a different “feel” or “theme” around the subject at hand Cost/investment
Virtual Reality provides an entirely world for the creative. Creative Benefits of VR/AR: allowing you to “EXPERIENCE” the design… Evidence Existence Intimacy Actuality VR allows for the discovery of “issues”. Longhouse examples: straps not tied, wood floating, texture issues….things not easily seen in 3D packages. Plug-in for Maya: mOculus.io
This is the animated sequence Longhouse 3.5.5.
Ironically, the caveats are the true key to understanding 3D Visualization’s place in the world. It’s easy to say that it must be clearly defined for what the outcome is to be, but that is the beauty of real-time visualization, the outcome can be deeply informative and surprising. It must be clearly defined what the purpose is. Personally, I’m all for artistic license, creative renderings, conceptual design. It’s my background and a big part of where I have come from. When it comes to visualization for research purposes, whether for scientific, engineering, or archaeological, accuracy to the point of existing knowledge is paramount.
I hope by providing the slide decks of our presentation that we can transparently demonstrate how the research is being discussed. By now means is this work finished, but it provides a unique opportunity to see the progression in not only our own thinking, but how the material is also leading into new areas of thought.
As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.