Longhouse 3.5.9

It has been a bit since my last post.  In that time I have been writing my dissertation and conducting interviews on how archaeologists react to immersive and non-immersive representations of virtual archaeological data. It’s been a year since we started Lh3.x and in that time technology as always has eclipsed the originally intended platform. Lh3.x was built using Autodesk Maya built assets imported into Unity 4.5-5 and then with some additional modelling and texture mapping changes within Unity. A year ago the only immersive virtual platform we felt could handle the complexity and detail of the (re)imagined data was the Oculus Rift DK2.

dk2However as the assets came together in Unity towards February, I noticed that there was considerable issues with frame rate latency within the DK2. A substantial portion of people are unable to use VR headgear due to the frame rate issues, including myself.  If I spent more than 2min’s with the DK2 on, I felt immediately sick. So I was stuck with developing an environment in which I was unable to participate and quite possibly could cause others issues as well. At the time however, Google Cardboard would have been unsuitable for the level of detail we were attempting and the HTCVive still hadn’t arrived, so it was decided to continue along a DK2 path. We did try to acquire the commercial release of the Oculus Rift early, but were unsuccessful.

htcviveSustainable Archaeology (SA) had early access to the new HTCVive and although the original Lh3.x wasn’t built for the HTCVive platform, Colin Creamer from the SA started hacking an HTCVive version of Lh3.x.  Even with the hack, it was clear that the new technology was far superior to what the DK2 was providing. Having a discussion with Craig Barr, who was the key technical partner on this project, it was decided that we would attempt to convert the OR Unity version of Lh3.x into an HTCVive version.  Craig had his own HTCVive system so he was able to rapidly test what worked and what didn’t. The conversion was not easy, but Craig was able to port a large portion of what we had in the OR Unity version over to the HTCVive environment. The Vive consists of a headset, two hand controllers and two motion sensors. The DK2 requires a single motion sensor (to detect head movement) and an XBox game controller to allow for movement within the virtual space.
alienware-auroraR5

The HTCVive required a more powerful graphics card and processor to run.  For my interviews, we have been using a Alienware Aurora5 with an Nvidia 970 graphics card. From a cost perspective, the combination of the HTCVive and the AW Aurora 5 is roughly $5K CDN, so very cost prohibitive and very difficult to deploy to larger crowds. Unlike the AW Laptop and DK2 setup we used previously, the HTCVive also required more time and equipment to setup.

vagear

As you can see, just to setup the environment, I needed to bring along the AW Aurora, monitor, light stands for the motion sensors and the HTCVive itself.  In the classic “back of the trunk” shot of archaeological equipment going out on a dig, the image below is representative of my trip over to ASI to conduct the first setup and interviews.

virtualarchaeology_equip

Just getting the equipment into the demonstration space, whether across town or in the lab, was still time consuming. Ideally, one should have at least two people to move equipment around, however the HTCVive digital calibration is easily done with one individual. Physically setting up and digitally calibrating the equipment took about 45min’s. The HTCVive requires to two sensors elevated above head height. Unlike the OR DK2, the HTCVive uses the physical space in order to allow users to physically walk while in the digital environment. Kudos to HTC for making the Vive digital calibration and tracking setup so easy! Whether you choose limited space or “map out” your usable space, both setup procedures are easy and quick.

htcsetup

If you would like more information on how to setup the HTCVive, please consult the Steam website. Once the physical space has been mapped digitally, the user then puts the headset on and can use the hand controllers to navigate within the virtual desktop space and then if controls are provided within an application, be able to affect objects or the environment within the simulation.  In our case, Craig provided a “teleporting” tool to allow users to move from section of the digital environment to another when their physical space ran out.  By “teleporting” this then allows users to explore throughout the environment and not just the space determined by the room-scale setup.

The difference between the HTCVive and the Oculus Rift is that with the HTCVive you are actually engaged physically within the digital environment.  When you walk physically, you are walking within the virtual environment.  If you want to pick something up with the controllers (your digital hands), that action must be programmed into the game engine. The OR is similar but you are either stationary standing or sitting and using a game controller to walk within digital space and/or pick up items, which functionality also needs to be programmed. I’m hesitant to use the term “immersive” however, between the two platforms the HTCVive is a highly physically interactive toolset which can convey immersive like qualities.

LaurenW

Once the head mounted display is on and the virtual environment is activated, users can interact with the environment in the same manner as they would within the physical environment.  Again however, to pick items up or to affect change within the digital space, these actions have to be programmed.  The monitor is primarily used for the non HTCVive participants to interact with the user and see what the user is experiencing. This interaction proved very useful when discussing features that where representative in the virtual space with the user and myself.

In Longhouse 4.0, I will be going into depth on the interviews conducted with archaeologists and heritage professionals as they use the immersive and non-immersive longhouse experiences. Some of the key take-aways from the interview process have been; a) users want to interact with the environment and are somewhat constrained to being a passive participant (the Oculus Story Studio has called this the Swayze Effect, where you can be within the environment but cannon effect change) b) that users would prefer immersive experiences over highly detailed and photorealistic desktop interactions c) that there is a technological fetish for innovative tools and users have to go through this stage first before gaining insight into knowledge construction within virtual space.

Stay tuned for the next blog but if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to post them here!

Cheers,

Michael

 

 

Longhouse 3.5.8

Power, Authority and the Virtual Image!

This eight-month journey has been an exploration of virtual archaeology through research, production and knowledge mobilization. As Ingold would point out, both virtually and theoretically we have made course corrections or wayfaring points (2011) throughout the process that have been reflective of cultural historical norms, technological advances, production sensibilities and participant engagement. In making this environment, the materials and the materiality (Ingold 2011) of both the physical and the virtual space has informed and on more than one occasion, dictated the decisions that have accumulated in creating this final virtual representation of archaeological meaning-making. Although this is the final part of this project, it is only the beginning for the continued exploration of power, authority and the virtual image!

The project is bookended by Paul Reilly’s 1991 paper; Towards a Virtual Archaeology which I read in 1992 and which inspired me to attend computer animation school and Dawson, Levy and Lyons’s 2011 paper, Breaking the 4th Wall, which solidified the approach I chose to examine for my PhD research on power, authority, authenticity and phenomenology in virtual reality.

In 2011 virtual reality was still grounded with the notion that large, physical, very expensive, immersive domes, as the only viable option for an authentic experiential virtual experience. My own predilection based on years of being in the animation business was a more cinematographic film-like approach. However in the summer of 2012 a chance opportunity to port our initial 3D longhouse assets into an Unreal game engine and another change opportunity to have a group of High School students play with the test game environment (see Longhouse 2.2) convinced me that building and deploying our longhouse research within a gaming environment was the ideal deployment strategy. It would not only enhance the phenomenological virtual experience, but would be on a platform technology that most archaeologists and non-archaeologists would be comfortable in using with little or no training. It also provided an opportunity to democratize the research in an easy deployable manner.  The rendering above is an example of how a participant viewer would engage the virtual experience in Oculus Rift or through normal projection within the virtual environment. The assets were first built in Autodesk Maya along with any additional objects or environment texture maps. These assets were then ported into Unity5 and assembled into a 3D representative environment where basic interaction controls such as walking, head movement, jump, crouch, and direction were added. In addition, Unity5 provided the ability to add additional environmetrics such as smoke, dust, water, fire, localized sound and most importantly, interactive lighting.

Informed by public project blog participants some immediate modelling and texture map changes where made to better represent their perceived vision of longhouse architecture, use and asset placement. Adjustments were made within Unity5 on some elements with the reduction of texture maps and modelled objects for lower resolution to increase user interaction. Some animated visual effects such as smoke, were reduced to their simplest forms to give the impression of the effect without loosing screen refresh speed. Environmental elements such as the land, trees and sky again were chosen to provide the best visual possible with the less impact on interactivity.

These negotiated decisions where dictated by the ability of the technology to handle overly complex models and realistic textures, the availability of known archaeological or cultural historical data and the artistic skill set of our team. To initiate the actual 3D build, we immersed ourselves in the cultural historical material hoping to faithfully reproduce the oral, written, visual or archaeological data provided. It was clear that the notion of an authentic representation was far less important than providing a phenomenological experience in which the concept of presence (Dawson, Levy & Lyons 2011) or a visual impression of the cultural historical data could be explored. Further with the stylized nature of the real-time visual rendering of Unity5, forced us to accept that photo-real rendering did not have to be representative of an authentic virtual archaeological experience.

What did become apparent was the power that our team had in terms of presenting an alternative view of longhouse construction and visualization. Working within the 3D toolkit continues to be a specialist endeavour. Both Craig and I were trained in computer animation; myself at Sheridan College’s prestigious Computer Animation program and Craig at Centennial College’s program in the early 1990’s and having over 20 years experience in 3D film, television and gaming production has given us a distinct advantage from both a production and technology perspective from our other virtual archaeology colleagues. Our roles were separated between content specialist (myself) and artistic/technical specialist (Craig). However the distinct advantage we had was our common knowledge and communication of the production process. It allowed a quicker approach to producing real assets faster and pivoting at greater intensity when changes were required. This isn’t to say the same rapport hasn’t played out with other virtual heritage projects, just that our combined computer animation experience provided a more fluid production style in which the archaeological context could become centre stage instead of the technology.LH15 The power was further enhanced by my ability to pick and choose the cultural historical data I wanted to represent and test. For instance, Dean Snow wrote convincingly of the potential lower bunk height within Iroquois longhouses (1997). I chose to take his interpretation and that of the potential use of bark shingles for the delineation of interior spaces within longhouses (Snow 1997) and combine it with Mima Kapches notion of a bent arbour construction methodology (1994) (see Longhouse 1.5). I then used JV Wright’s notion of wood types and material use to develop our (re)imagination of an Iroquoian longhouse. What has resulted is a “mashup” of cultural historical opinions that I hope in the future to provide researchers with the ability to pick and choose in 3D and real-time for themselves (see Longhouse 1.5). Our funders, Sustainable Archaeology and ASI, were consulted when data was unavailable and both Neal Ferris and Ron Williamson’s years of practical knowledge helped to inform how certain elements should or could be represented visually.

As Craig and I worked remotely, all of our communication was through email, SKYPE or when necessary, by telephone. We met for lunch at the beginning to “kick off” the project and only really connected in person when we tested the prototype Longhouse 3.5.5 at the Heritage Toronto event almost 5 months later. Production was really dictated by Craig’s availability, which in hindsight proved to be beneficial in allowing longer reflective time spans between revisions. Participant viewers were given the chance to reflect and respond to the direction and decisions I was making through the blog or personal communication, which then gave me the opportunity to better inform the revision process with Craig. Craig also played an important role throughout the project in raising concerns, observations and making alternative suggestions to the data and the direction we were taking, which is typical of a normal digital media production process.
LH2We chose to establish to frame the initial visual experience when the game begins as a traditional mid-ground establishing perspective shot. I wanted users to take in the surrounding environment before exploring the interior of the longhouse. Based on discussions with Neal Ferris on the archaeological data regarding positioning of individual longhouses outside of palisaded villages, our longhouse was then situated about 300ft from the unseen/modeled village’s palisade wall in the background. A river was added to simulate a typical reliance on readily available water for daily use and strategic transportation needs. Mixed Ontario tree growth was represented in the vegetation added within the environment and an enhanced ground texture map suggests wear patterns through daily activities. Suggestive cooking and food drying models help to visually ground the longhouse itself in the scene as supportive object props and exploration areas. Lastly, to ensure users would concentrate on exploring the longhouse, we set software enabled boundaries along the river, palisade and tree lines to stop random exploration within the broader virtual environment.LH12 Added visual features to the longhouse included smoke simulations from the roof holes, mossy like wooded shingles and an external support skeleton as suggested by Dean Snow through personal communications. Due to real-time interactivity restrictions, I chose to not add skin or bark door “curtains” to either entrance to the longhouse as cloth simulations would have taken a considerable amount of computing complexity to replicate realistically. It should also be noted that Bill Engelbrecht had spoken about the possible use of lower door heights as a defensive measure in Iroquois longhouse construction, but that one slipped our revisions list. In the future we would likely add both a curtain and a lower door height for increased interactivity.LH5 Entering into the longhouse through the river facing front end, there is the immediacy of the storage vestibule. Cultural historical information has been limited as to the size, quantity and variety of objects that might have been stored in this area, so 3D replicated birch baskets and barrels were used to denote the storage of food stuffs. Curing or storage of rope, tobacco and meats from the rafters might have been utilized in this space so those representative objects were also added. As I chose to follow Snow’s interpretation of the existence of an inner cedar wall, the vestibule tends to have dark lighting as the only simulated sources of light are coming from the internal fire hearths and the external environment. Lastly, the construction of the virtual vestibule itself is highly improbable from a physical construction methodology, but it was the best guess at the time. Clearly this is an area of additional research that needs to be addressed.LH7Continuing into the main longhouse interior, some of the main features I wanted to emphasize was the potential individual bunking system, hearth placements and the layer of smoke that would have inhabited the upper recesses of a constantly active longhouse. As Ron Williamson and his fellow researchers experienced in their 1979 experimental archaeology longhouse stay, constant internal hearth fires and external weather conditions would have kept a substantial amount of smoke within the upper rafters. Interactive smoke proved to be too computationally heavy for real-time interactive play, so a less interactive layer of smoke was used for suggestive purposes.LH10Huge efforts were made to ensure there was a feeling of the dirt and grime build up that normal communal living would have produced. Although not readily seen in the rendered version above, finger prints were added to the surfaces of the poles and posts to denote typical grab points in the bunking systems. We also stripped the poles to their wood surface to suggest that the bark, which was a major construction and utility resource, would have been immediately harvested during construction. Additional dirt splatter was added to the poles that where placed into the ground and creosote textures added to the rafters and tops of the internal roofing systems. The floors were also modelled and textured to represent a dirt surface along with wear patterns in the normal traffic spots.LH6 3D modeled objects of actual Iroquoian pottery from the Lawson Museum’s collection were added throughout the space. These objects were lower resolution versions of actual 3D scans conducted at Sustainable Archaeology and are representative of the 15th century northern Iroquoian pottery styles. Additional pots, baskets and wooden utensils were modelled from suggestive modern reproductions of Iroquoian goods. Reed mats, furs and cedar bough bedding and storage of wood and other items under the bunks are suggestive and as with all of the material inhabiting the virtual space, meant to be points for discussion rather than de facto representations of authenticity.

The fire hearths were very important to represent effectively as they would have played a major part in the daily lives of the longhouse inhabitants. In one of the hearths, a pot with boiling liquid is active and everything from the burning wood texture maps, to the representation of ash was considered. The addition of the sound of burning wood was added along with the occasional flying ember and smoke streams to create a phenomenological effect.LH9Curing food, drying cordage was also added to the rafters for effect, but in my estimation is likely far less that what have really been stored in the upper sections of the longhouse. Again this was primarily due to the computational issues of representing a substantial amount of detail within a real-time game engine.

A substantial amount of time was spent trying to be informed by whatever cultural historical data we could find. At times a negotiated process occurred where we wanted to visually suggest a detail or feature but really had no description to go with. This mirrored the internal issues of the reality of Iroquoian longhouse archaeology; nobody really knows anything more about longhouses construction or use other than the post-hole stains that survive in the archaeological record.

The use of a gaming medium has greatly improved our research capability. It democratizes the research material, provides a unique opportunity to interact with a virtual environment and provides a real-time engine that can be retuned for a variety of hardware applications. Although in our study the use of the game engine has been strictly for the ability to freely explore the archaeological environment, it doesn’t have any real interactive game play. The next phase would be to determine what if any interactivity should be implemented. Further discussion between stylistic and photorealistic rendering needs to be fully researched especially in terms of perceived authenticity, but I feel this initial visualization provides a perfect launching pad for further investigation.

Does this visual (re)imagination inform archaeological research? This is our next phase of the research! To determine the validity of virtual archaeology as a means of knowledge mobilization where there is a pre-existing mental image and perceived meaning of the archaeological material. Can virtual reality allow for the exchange of ideas, the remodelling of perceived meaning-making or even just to inform the possibility of new perspectives? Over the next few months, trial sessions using Oculus Rift and screen based play will occur with archaeologists and heritage professionals. The actual Longhouse 3.x Unity 5 game module will be made public but through the auspices of Sustainable Archaeology as our commitment to open source research, immediately following our interview program.

I want to thank Craig Barr for his dedication, artistic and technical skill in delivering my interpretation of northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use. Further to our funders, Sustainable Archaeology, ASI and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology for their support. Lastly to the public and private contributors who helped inform this research and provided encouragement and support.

Continue to monitor this production website for updates as we move into the next phase of research. As always, feel free to leave comments to this blog or contact me directly on anything you feel we could have done differently.

Cheers,

Michael

 

References

Dawson, P., R. Levy, and N. Lyons
2011 “Breaking the Fourth Wall”: 3D Virtual Worlds as Tools for Knowledge Repatriation in Archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology 11(3): 387–402.

Ingold, Tim
2011 Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Taylor & Francis.

Kapches, M.
1994 The Iroquoian longhouse architectural and cultural identity. Meaningful Architecture: Social Interpretations of Buildings, 9, 253.

Reilly, P.
1991 Towards a Virtual Archaeology. CAA90. Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology 1990: 132–139. http://caaconference.org/proceedings/paper/21_reilly_caa_1990/.

Snow, Dean
1997 The Architecture of Iroquois Longhouses.Northeast Anthropology 53: 61-84.

Williamson, Ronald F.
2009 Longhouse Heating Experiment Ska-Nah-Doht Village, Longwoods Conservation Authority (1979). Toronto.

Wright, J.V.
1995 Three dimensional reconstructions of Iroquoian longhouses: A comment. Archaeology of Eastern North America, 9-21.

 

My third draft PhD Proposal

**Update this is the approved version!**

Happy New Year everyone!  After reading a tonne over the holidays and in the hopes that I’m “third time lucky” here is my third draft of my PhD research proposal.  In comparison, my first draft can be viewed here and my second draft here. It’s my additional hope that for future graduate students, some measure of writing progression can be demonstrated by comparing all three.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a group of dedicated Mentors and Supervisors to help navigate the process, provide support and suggest new insights.

As always, do not hesitate to comment, suggest or even challenge what you have read!

Cheers,

Michael

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WORKING TITLE: VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY, VIRTUAL LONGHOUSES AND “ENVISIONING THE UNSEEN” WITHIN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD.

MICHAEL CARTER – PHD DISSERTATION PROPOSAL

Keywords: Virtual Archaeology, Virtual Reality, Archaeological Visualization, Archaeology, Northern Iroquoian Longhouses, Agency, Authenticity, Authority, Transparency, Making, Materiality, Wayfaring.

Introduction

My PhD research will include the construction of a virtual, archaeologically-based Late Woodland ancestral northern Iroquoian longhouse. The build and subsequent participant interaction with that space will facilitate an interrogation of archaeological meaning making informed by material and historical data as made “real” in virtual space. The virtual build of archaeological spaces will allow me to test cultural historical assumptions about the architecture and internal layout of these residential structures manifested virtually, and to experiment with the physics and logics of these assumptions. And once constructed, this virtual space will allow me, through semi-structured interviews and participant observations, to examine whether Virtual Archaeology (VA) is an effective means to enhance and expose the conceptual frameworks and mental templates archaeologists operationalize to help bridge the gaps between physical, contextual data and archaeological meaning making.

By specifically focusing on the virtual visualization of a typical northern Iroquoian longhouse, I have chosen a unique cultural manifestation that apart from the remnants of post-hole stains, below ground cultural features and fire hearths, is an archaeological enigma lacking significant above ground visual representation archaeologically or historically. Conversely, there exists a more generally understood “pre-existing mental image” (Ingold 2011:22) of these structures derived from limited historical and oral descriptions, albeit generalized from a narrow period of time and from a range of regional and cultural variations in material expression. Thus I will explore, through the use of virtual 3D model creation, how archaeologists internalize archaeological data and landscapes, material artifacts and oral and written histories in order to “envision the unseen” within virtual reality.

Through the process of making and manipulating the material, and the material – in turn – manipulating the maker, there are also a series of wayfaring points. Wayfaring is a process for taking stalk of the moment in time in which the act of making and the materiality of the raw material requires the artisan wayfarer [1] to stop, evaluate and make course corrections in order to achieve a representative version of their vision (Ingold 2011, 2013; see also Crawford 2015), a process that past and present longhouse builders work through during their construction of such buildings. Likewise, in the act of making within 3D space, there is a similar wayfaring experiential process, one that both mirrors the physical experiential process of longhouse construction while confronting archaeological knowledge and assumptions embedded in that research on ancient longhouse architecture and living.

([1] Defined as a craftsperson that uses their accumulated knowledge through the reflexive application of the physical, material and materiality of the making process.)

In this process of making, and as makers who make course corrections at wayfaring points, the decisions made embody elements of power, agency and authority (Crawford 2015; Ingold 2011, 2013) that draws into question the authenticity of the representative virtual form created. As such, as a virtual artisan wayfarer, I embody and assert a technical, creative and archaeological “expertise.” This creates a unique perspective to archaeological meaning-making that requires me to be reflexive of the power, agency and implicit authority I embed in the process of making within virtual space. Thus as a wayfaring artist, I will need to transparently negotiate the process between virtual builder, viewer and archaeologist, in order to reveal the “continuous correcting” that occurs as decisions are made virtually through the build and through the (re)imagining of a longhouse within the 3D environment (Ingold 2011, 2013).

While it has been a dimension of archaeological practice for over 30 years now, VA continually has failed to build and emerge from a solid foundation of robust archaeological inquiry (Reilly 2015). Rather, this practice has tended to focus more on the application of the tool as novelty and as a visual aid within archaeology, with little consideration on how these tools can expose and even shape our understandings of the archaeological record (Dallas 2007; Gillings 2005; Huggett 2012). It is my claim that virtual archaeology has the potential to provide transformative ways of thinking not only about the practical construction and material realities of longhouse building and dwelling, but also about the mental embodiment of longhouse culture and use that archaeologists have employed in their constructions of ancestral northern Iroquoian lifeways. Thus, the proximate aims of this research are to examine archaeological understandings of agency, authority, authenticity and transparency manifest within a virtual archaeological environment. Ultimately, the aim is to enhance understandings of archaeological meaning-making as applied to and revealed by virtual visualization and interaction in archaeology.

Background

The sublime organic nature of ancestral northern Iroquoian longhouses I am exploring in this research is that they are ideal examples of Ingold’s (2011:19-32) notion of “materials versus materiality.” The organic materials used in the construction of these structures and dwelling spaces dictates the style, use and longevity of the physical materiality of the longhouse itself, which eventually melds back into the environment in which it came, with no above ground traces of those materials or that living materiality left behind (Ingold 2011:26). For archaeologists, this material absence serves as the foundation for imposing archaeological understandings of the ancient materiality of longhouse embodiment. Thus to visualize and describe the material, mental and social properties of longhouses over their life history as ancient-built conceptions of structures, residences and living spaces is to “tell the stories of what happens to them as they flow, mix and mutate” (Ingold 2011:30).  Hence the virtual construction of a longhouse represents the physical and mental interpretation of what that longhouse was, and is this much more than visualizing data. It is also a contemporary narrative in which multiple voices, conceptions and opinions are expressed along the pathway of knowledge creation.

Compounding the challenges of archaeologists to visualize remaining, below-ground vestiges of a three dimensional material space and conception virtually is that, in popular forms of virtual reality, the pervasive use of photo-realism in the entertainment industry has created an expectation –and fallacy – that if it “looks” real, it must be authentic (Denard 2012). This is a theme that plays out time and again in the use of archaeological visualization, whether it is for knowledge makers or for the general public (Colley 2015; Earl 2005; Frankland and Earl 2011). Although the tradition of archaeological illustration has altered little since antiquity scholars began their renaissance studies (e.g. Moser 2012) virtual reality puts a unique spin on this tradition of presenting archaeological visual data in an authoritative and authentic manner (Perry 2015). In doing so, by taking a creative approach to the interpretation of archaeological data within virtual representations, the agency of that data becomes layered upon and seen through the creators lens: what that “artist’s impression” intends the virtual space to convey (see Earl 2013; Frankland and Earl 2011; Frischer et al. 2000; Smiles and Moser 2005; Perry 2015). The digital production of objects, landscapes and narratives makes overt issues of authenticity and authority in archaeological meaning making, creating an interpretive agency in both real and virtual worlds, and as such need to be acknowledged overtly and transparently (Bentkowska-Kafel et al. 2012; Cochrane and Russell 2007; Colley 2015; Earl 2013; Forte 2014a; Huggett 2012, 2015; Pauketat and Alt 2005; Perry 2009; Richardson 2013; Robb 2010).

Rationale and Objectives

Virtual Archaeology has become a powerful tool in the presentation and interpretation of archaeological landscapes and artifacts as a means of knowledge building, meaning making and heritage accessibility (e.g., Dallas 2009; Earl 2013; Forte 2014a, 2014b; Huggett 2013; Perry 2015). It has become a “mediating tool” allowing researchers to experiment with the data and to tease out the tensions that arise from limited and multiple conceptions of the past – a multi-sourced and even multi-vocal environment created to “stimulate interpretation,” explore alternate tellings of the past, and advance new research directions in archaeology (Dallas 2009; Earl 2013; Huggett 2013). Nonetheless, while the practice/study/craft of archaeological visualization has managed to present itself and its output as representative of archaeological meaning making and authoritative presentations of the past, this has occurred without the practice really establishing the basis for that authority (see Earl 2013; Perry 2015). Thus the challenges VA represents within the broader field of archaeological theory and method is going beyond the perceived notion of the technology being a novel means to illustrate archaeological data, and to demonstrate that VA can be a transformative vehicle to engage with material pasts in a way that allows for multiple visions of that heritage to be represented, tested and valued.

Case study

 The proposed research in VA I have and will continue to advance for this PhD is to create an interactive, phenomenological virtual representation of an Iroquoian longhouse. This longhouse will be modelled on an example documented archaeologically from the pre-contact 16th Century of southern Ontario, and specifically from the ancestral northern Iroquoian community identified as the Lawson Village site, located on the grounds of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA). The process of designing, developing and implementing virtual archaeological data is a relatively new approach to Iroquoian archaeological research and broader knowledge dissemination within Ontario, although physical world public interpretive reconstructions and as case studies of experimental archaeology have been undertaken over the last several decades (e.g. Fecteau 1979; Williamson 2004) As such, my current research will reflect on my own and participants’ experiences of interpreting the data from a visual knowledge building perspective, while addressing and developing protocols to address agency, authority, authenticity, transparency and traditional Iroquoian archaeological research within virtual reality.

By virtualizing an Iroquoian longhouse and by disseminating this project by means of social media and direct participant engagement to the archaeological community, I hope to gain additional insight into how archaeologists conceptualize and “understand” these unique residential structures, since they are the perceived experts of this archaeology. What I am interested in exploring is how these archaeological understandings, as built environments and material spaces foreign to archaeologists’ own lived experiences but culturally and materially understood within the daily lives of ancient peoples (Ferris 2013) arise in interpretive models of this record.

 Methodology

The first stage of my research will consist of researching and then building a virtual ancestral northern Iroquoian longhouse that generally conforms to 16th century archaeological longhouse data, while interrogating the multitude of detailed physical characteristics of the above ground building and space created around and within those longhouses, which can only be assumed archaeologically. Using traditional 3D animation and visual effects, as well as film, television and gaming production techniques derived from twenty years of personal production experience, and following previous test projects conducted at Sustainable Archaeology and Ryerson University, a production schedule, budget and technical pipeline methodology for this research was developed. This also included reviewing relevant cultural material literature, experimental archaeology observations and experiences, along with archaeological community participation, in order to help inform the creation of representative 3D assets (digital artistic components used in the longhouse build) that served as templates and a technical framework for the development of the virtual Longhouse environment.

Following the successful model of employing 3D knowledge experts previously used at Sustainable Archaeology, I brought together professional technical artist expertise to compliment the creation, production and deployment of the virtual Longhouse environment. Using a conventional film and television client-service provider production model, I worked with the computer artist with my direction, informed by written, visual and verbal archaeological research, that would serve as the basis for my “artist’s impression” of the assets to be built within the 3D environment. As this archaeological data became a 3D visual reality, I reflexively made course corrections based on; i) new research I became aware of; ii) comments from the archaeological community; or iii) limitations in the artist’s rendering, technical abilities or software capabilities. Likewise, inherent hardware and software limitations to achieve the representation desired at the resolution preferred also became wayfaring points of decision. At all stages as the virtual environment was being researched and built, these decisions, observations and experiential workarounds were documented, allowing me to reflexively consider the nature of the archaeological, historical, oral and experimental information I was utilizing, as well as my own direction, interpretation and expectations of the content being developed.

This was an experiential process and as such, when new theoretical, methodological, technical, artistic or archaeological data was discovered, it was measured for fit within the project and incorporated accordingly. As such, during the production phase, new technological advances such as the now publically available Ocular Rift immersive virtual reality headset determined the delivery platform on which the final project would be ported and applied within the second stage of this research.

To date, a fully immersive 3D representation of a prototypical 16th century northern Iroquoian longhouse has been constructed. Being initially built in Autodesk Maya, its assets have been ported to a Unity3D game engine that controls not only the visual rendering of the Longhouse itself, but also phenomenological elements such as environ metrics (fire, wind, smoke), sound (flowing water, forest/nature, wind, fire) and the haptic interaction of users in this immersive environment (movement, direction). Further, the delivery platform incorporates the use of both the Ocular Rift immersive 3D glasses, or traditional screen based experiences, which allows for multiple types of participant engagement. This phase of research encompasses 4 years of preliminary pre-production research and testing, and 7 months of 3D production in 2015. As of January 2016 this phase of the research is complete and the longhouse environment It is now fully deployable for the second stage of my research.

The second stage of my research will be to have individuals interact with the virtual longhouse environment, in order to test the utility of this model, and the potential of VA to engage with and advance archaeological cultural historical studies, and reveal the operational logics archaeologists use to inform their interpretive understandings of ancient material spaces. This stage will consist of pre-participation questionnaires, semi-structured interviews during and after engagement, and observing participant behaviour within the longhouse virtual environment. All study participants will be given the option of choosing between a fully immersed virtual reality experience using Oculus Rift immersive goggles, or a less immersive experience with a hand-held controller and TV display.

I intend to work with three sets of up to five (5) Heritage stakeholders, each group representing specific expertise in ancestral northern Iroquoians. These participants would encompass: i) academic and professional archaeologists who have had limited exposure to Virtual Archaeology, but moderate to substantial experience working with ancestral northern Iroquoian archaeology; ii) academic and professional archaeologists who have moderate to substantial exposure to Virtual Archaeology, but more limited experience working with northern Iroquoian archaeology; and iii) heritage and descendent professionals who have or have not had experiences with VA, but do have experience in knowledge dissemination of Iroquoian history/material culture to the broader public. To develop a representative base, I will seek a broad set of adult individuals in age, gender, professional experience and backgrounds. My goals are to: i) document overt participant preconceptions for both their anticipated VA experience and longhouse environments; ii) observe how participants engage with and choose to interact with the virtual longhouse; iii) observe how and discussion participants perceive the virtual environment in terms of authenticity, authority and agency; iv) document their interpretation of the representation and placement of digital assets, landscapes and built structures, as well as v) record any alternative meaning-making they themselves express or advance after interacting with this virtual environment.

As the Oculus Rift goggles, hand held controllers and computer platform that controls the data is highly portable, interviews will be ideally conducted in private at the participant’s place of choosing or at a private, controlled room at Sustainable Archaeology or Ryerson University. Once the subject is in position and engaged with the virtual environment, I will observe the participant’s choices and movement through the environment, and non-prompted verbal responses. I will answer questions only when asked. Lastly after the participant has engaged with the virtual environment, they will be interviewed in a semi-structured manner for no more than one hour with the allowance to provide additional feedback via email if desired. All observations and interviews will be video and audio recorded along with detailed field notes.

Prior to the virtual experience, I will ask participants to describe, based on their academic and professional expertise, what their vision of a 16th century northern Iroquoian longhouse should look and “feel” like. Through the post experience interview, I will seek to understand their perceptions of the virtual environment, the degree to which they felt the representation of that archaeological space mirrored their pre-expectations, and the “accuracy” or authenticity of architectural details, objects and interior and exterior space as rendered. Lastly participants’ will be asked to discuss the role of this virtual environment in archaeological interpretation, and whether they feel VA serves as a visual aid to conventional archaeological interpretation, or how it might facilitate new forms of interpretation. Pre-entry and exit comments provided by participants will assist in gaging if they feel virtual archaeology has no, little or substantial effect on their mental templates and conceptual understanding of longhouses, on the use of virtual archaeology for interpreting longhouse archaeology and the social environment of this lived space.

Contribution

Although this research seeks to advance the use and intent of virtual archaeology as a means of reflexively evaluating archaeological meaning-making, it also will contribute to examining the contested materiality and embodiment of ancestral northern Iroquoian longhouse lifeways by challenging cultural historical norms that bridge archaeological data and assumptions of longhouse construction and use. By deploying the latest 3D asset building and visualization tools, this research can contribute to developing a methodological template for further VA applications and knowledge transfers. Lastly, this research will test the concepts of authority, authenticity and transparency in approaches to archaeological visualization.

Timeline

In progress: I have already constructed a 3D representation of a prototypical ancestral northern Iroquoian longhouse using available archaeological, historical and oral data, along with associated household objects and materials. These assets were created in Autodesk Maya and then ported into the Unity3D game engine. Testing is currently being conducted on the use of Ocular Rift as an immersive engagement platform and Beta deployment of the Longhouse representation has been tested with a limited number of archaeologists for antidotal impressions of the theme and technology used.

Following The London Charter, all steps in the design, development, current implementation and knowledge dissemination of this virtual archaeological research have been recorded and made available specifically to the archaeological community and the public at large through the use of social media.

November 2015 – January 2016: Completion of the 3D construction of the longhouse and associated assets within Maya with a final porting of those assets into the Unity game engine (development began in March of 2015). Technical testing of the delivery platform(s) using Oculus Rift, Desktop and Internet based systems.

January – May 2016: Relevant ethics protocols will be acquired for my case study of user experiences by archaeology and heritage professionals. Once approved, I will undertake participant questionnaires and VA engagements, to be completed by end of May 2016.

June – December 2016: Analysis of interviews and begin writing of dissertation.

January – June 2017: Completion of dissertation and revision as needed.

Research Deliverables: 1) Longhouse 3.x – a completed and interactive digital version of the VA environment used by participants. 2) An article-based dissertation (3 articles i – on the longhouse build; ii – on participant experiences; iii – on theoretical and methodological implications of VA on archaeological meaning making).

References

Bentkowska-Kafel, Anna, Hugh Denard, and Drew Baker
2012 Paradata and transparency in virtual heritage. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Cochrane, Andrew, and Ian Russell
2007  Visualizing Archaeologies: a Manifesto. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17(01): 3.

Colley, Sarah
2015  Ethics and digital heritage. In The Ethics of Cultural Heritage, edited by Tracy Ireland and John Schofield, pp. 13–32. Springer, New York, NY.

Crawford, M
2015  The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. Penguin Canada Books Inc., Toronto.

Dallas, C
2007  Archaeological knowledge, virtual exhibitions and the social construction of meaning. Archeologia e Calcolatori(1): 31–63.

2009  From artefact typologies to cultural heritage ontologies: or, an account of the lasting impact of archaeological computing. Archeologia e Calcolatori 20: 205–221.

Denard, Hugh
2012  A new introduction to the London Charter. Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities Series(Ashgate, 2012): 57–71.

Earl, Graeme
2005  Video killed engaging VR? Computer visualizations on the TV screen. In Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image, edited by Sam Smiles and Stephanie Moser, pp. 204–222. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

2013  Modeling in archaeology: computer graphic and other digital pasts. Perspectives on Science 21(2): 226–244.

Fecteau, R D
1979  The Longhouse Experiment. KEWA: Newsletter London Chapter, Ontario Archaeological Society 79(2): 1–3.

Ferris, Neal
2013  Place, Space, and Dwelling in the Late Woodland. In Before Ontario: The Archaeology of a Province, edited by Marit K Munson and Susan M Jamieson, pp. 99–111. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP, Montreal and Kingston.

Forte, Maurizio
2014a 3D Archaeology : New Perspectives and Challenges — The Example of Çatalhöyük. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies 2(1): 1–29.

2014b Virtual Reality and Cyberarchaeology. In 3D Recording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Theory and best practices., edited by Fabio Remondino and Stefano Campana, pp. 3–6. ArcheoPress. British Archaeological Reports (S2598), Oxford.

Frankland, Tom, and Graeme Earl
2011  Authority and authenticity in future archaeological visualisation. Original Citation: 62.

Frischer, Bernard, Franco Niccolucci, Nick Ryan, and Juan Barceló
2000  From CVR to CVRO: The Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality. VAST Conference on Virtual reality, Archeology, and Cultural Heritage, Arezzo, Italy.(November): 1–12.

Gillings, Mark
2005  The real, the virtually real, and the hyperreal: The role of VR in archaeology. Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image: 223–239.

Huggett, J.
2012  What lies beneath: lifting the lid on archaeological computing. In Thinking Beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process, edited by A. Chrysanthi, P. Murrietta, Flores, and C. Papadopoulos, pp. 204–214. Archeopress.

2013 Disciplinary issues: challenging the research and practice of computer applications in archaeology. In Archaeology in the Digital Era, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, pp. 13–24.

2015  A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology. Open Archaeology 1(1): 86–95.

Ingold, Tim
2011  Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Taylor & Francis.

2013  Making: Anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. Routledge.

Moser, Stephanie
2012  Early Artifact Illustration and the Birth of the Archaeological Image. In Archaeological Theory Today, edited by Ian Hodder, pp. 292–322. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Pauketat, Timothy R., and Susan M. Alt
2005  Agency in a postmold? Physicality and the archaeology of culture-making. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 12(3): 213–237.

Perry, Sara
2009  Fractured Media: Challenging the Dimensions of Archaeology’s Typical Visual Modes of Engagement. Archaeologies 5(3): 389–415.

2015  Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology. In Material Evidence. Learning from archaeological practice., edited by R. Chapman and A. Wylie, pp. 189–210. Routledge, New York and London.

Reilly, P
2015  Putting the materials back into Virtual Archaeology. St. Petersburg.

Richardson, Lorna
2013  A Digital Public Archaeology? Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23(1): 1–12.

Robb, John
2010 Beyond agency. World archaeology 42(4): 493–520.

Williamson, Ronald F
2004  Replication or Interpretation of the Iroquoian Longhouse. In The Reconstructed Past: Reconstrucions in the Public Interpretation of Archaeology and History, edited by John H. Jameson, Jr., pp. 147–166. Altamira Press, New York.

 

Longhouse 3.5.7

Today’s post is really a brain dump of the last four weeks of virtual archaeology theoretical reading I’ve been doing and the practical application of the Lh3.x project.

The project itself is going along swimmingly but into the tough phase of honing down the assets so users can run through the experience in real time and with a variety of machine speeds.  Although “polygon count” is always an issue with producing 3D assets for gaming, the focus has been on providing a higher level of authenticity to the overall virtual experience.  In retrospect we probably added too much cultural historical detail, which has slowed real time play down considerably.  Texture maps also pose a problem as the more complex and higher resolution they are, the more memory (like the 3D models) that has to be cached.  Thus, there has been the painful decision to reduce the visual quality or to take certain asset features out in order to retain a high level of interactive play.  In doing so, we are altering one set of experiences in order for another to take greater presence within the virtual environment.

However, this wasn’t the negotiated process I had hoped for when we started out.  Ideally I wanted to challenge the notion that virtual archaeology was just a smokescreen for non-archaeologists to make “pretty pictures”.  That the project would be evidence based and reflective of a strong scientific methodology. Working with the material however, whether virtual or not, alters your perception of what the term accurate or evidence based really means.  Tim Ingold’s book Being Alive, which I’ve just recently reread (and if you are interested, here is reprint of a theory paper I wrote on Wayfaring in virtual space), stresses the material over the materiality of things (2011).  The material shapes our way of knowing and in the process of working the material we gain insight into all of the artistic, technical and cultural factors involved in the cultural object being created.  However, the material’s properties, may it be wood, clay or 3D polygons, still trumps all cultural intentions that have gone into the creation of it. Eventually the material will once again dominate the materiality of the object in question and as in Iroquoian longhouses, will return it from the environment in which it came.

I’ve been mindful not to use the words accurate or authentic as the project has progressed.  Archaeologists make meaning from the artifacts, landscapes and environments they study.  In doing so they are creating their own interpretations of what the cultural material means, drawing upon personal knowledge creation, other stakeholder knowledge and opinions from experts such as Historians, Anthropologists and content specific Archaeologists.  In essence we’re creating a narrative, which is one of many narratives that can be developed when looking at a potsherd, buried viking hoards or longhouse postmold stains.  Readily I admit that I haven’t reached out to Decedent stakeholders, experimental archaeologists or other non-Iroquoian built heritage specialists to garner opinion or guidance.  I wanted this process to be my interpretation of the archaeological record, oral and written histories.  But as you work with the material more, coming across technical, creative or research material limitations there is a negotiated process that kicks in, forcing you to make tough decisions that takes you further away from that well intentioned goal in which these stakeholders might help support.

Ingold considers these “course corrections” as part of the symbiotic relationship between the practitioner, tool and material (2011).  Each movement whether deliberate or not, is part of the larger holistic process of creating and is thus valid from a theoretical perspective.  In essence my struggles as both an artist and a researcher is part and parcel of larger narrative that Ingold speaks of and that our virtual longhouse embodies.

Lately I have been having difficulty as an artist choosing between the two types of visual experiences that this project has created. On the one hand, the virtual real time experience of a gaming environment allows for those phenomenological experiences to play out more readily.  On the other, the still or sequenced, highly manicured rendered photorealistic images still dominates as being desirable representation of elusive “fact”.

Lh3x_still_game

On the left in the image above is a screen grab of Lh3.x within the Unity game engine.  On the right is a high resolution and rendered version of the 3D assets.  The rendering on the right has lighting that is obviously more effective and the textures are more vibrant.  You can almost imagine being right in a real-life environment.  Whereas the game quality version, clearly sets up our expectation that this experience will be representative but not quite realistic.

Tom Frankland suggests that our perception of photo-realistic reconstructions carries with it a false sense that the image generated is authentic and because of its perceived authenticity, it is accepted psychologically as fact by those viewing it (2010). He goes on to comment that non-photorealistic rendering (NPR), like the image on the left, might actually enhance our ability to accept different modes of interpretation and meaning-making because it frees us from the notion that what we are looking at is “fact” (Frankland 2010).  Ultimately however archaeologist must take caution in the visualization approach they use and I would argue the transparent paradata they provide, so that (re)imagined visualizations aren’t perceived as sacrosanct truth.

Although the entrenched tradition of archaeological illustrations, specifically through field notes, has altered little since antiquity scholars began their renaissance studies, virtual reality puts a unique spin on presenting visual data and individual opinions in a very authoritative and authentic way (Perry 2015). In doing so, by taking a creative approach to the interpretation of the archaeological data, the agency of that data is now layered upon and seen through the creators lens; what “artist’s impression” intend the virtual space to convey (see Earl 2013; Frankland and Earl 2011; Frischer et al. 2000; Moser and Smiles 2008; Perry 2015).  Essentially what I and Craig represent virtually in Lh3.x is artistic narrative building, but grounded within initial archaeological data which in no measure should be considered archaeological “fact”.

In the next Longhouse 3.5.8, I’m going to talk about our issues of populating the virtual space with material culture that is somewhat representative of the era and culture we are dealing with.  In the scene below we used 3D modelled cured ham legs to give the example of drying meat, but a nudge about Experimental Archaeology from Bill Engelbrecht and a chance discussion with Archaeologist Martin Lominy from Aboriginal technologies provided a unique perspective on how the 15th Century Northern Iroquoians might have dealt with such issues as drying meat and how we might represent that visually.

Lh3x_ham

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Frankland, T.J.
2010   A CG artist’s impression: depicting virtual reconstructions using non-photorealistic rendering techniques. In Thinking Beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process., edited by Angeliki Chrysanthi, Patricia Murrieta-Flores, and Constantinos Papadopoulos. Archaeopress, Oxford, UK, November 11.

Frankland, Tom, and Graeme Earl
2011   Authority and authenticity in future archaeological visualisation. Original Citation: 62.

Frischer, Bernard, Franco Niccolucci, Nick Ryan, and Juan Barceló
2000   From CVR to CVRO: The Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality. VAST Conference on Virtual reality, Archeology, and Cultural Heritage, Arezzo, Italy.(November): 1–12.

Huggett, J.
2012   What lies beneath: lifting the lid on archaeological computing. In Thinking Beyond the Tool: Archaeological Computing and the Interpretative Process, edited by A. Chrysanthi, P. Murrietta, Flores, and C. Papadopoulos, pp. 204–214. Archeopress.

Ingold, Tim
2011   Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Taylor & Francis.

Moser, Stephanie, and Sam Smiles
2008   Introduction: The Image in Question. In Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image, pp. 1–12. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

Perry, Sara
2015   Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology. In Material Evidence. Learning from archaeological practice., edited by R. Chapman and A. Wylie, pp. 189–210. Routledge, New York and London.

 

Ingold & Wayfaring from a Digital Perspective

This post is a reprint of a 2011 Theoretical Archaeology paper I wrote in my first year of PhD studies.  Recently I was challenged by my supervisory committee to point to a theoretical framework that I would use for my PhD research and in those notes was a comment about Tim Ingold’s book Being Alive which we read extensively. In the four years since that course, I had completely forgotten about Ingold, although his books always seemed to be physically in the way on my desk!  I took the weekend to read it again and found, as I did four years ago, that his take on wayfaring blended nicely with the 3D animation/virtual reality process.

The paper below was my way of figuring out how Ingold and wayfaring fit within my initial research on developing an interactive 3D longhouse builder which eventually became Longhouse 1.0.  I hope you enjoy it for what it is, but I thank my committee for reminding me of Ingold’s influence on my research.To really understand the impact of the 3D CGI digital taskscape within the archaeological landscape, one needs to envision a virtual environment, empty of traditional senses. A black void of infinite 3D space, entirely dependent on user input, direction and purpose. A habitat entirely dependent on the coming into being, capture or importing of a single point, surface or object for any form of wayfaring to begin. This requires a paradigm shift of unparalleled magnitude, as the virtual world is a meshwork of organic, ever evolving tissue, influenced by an infinitesimal amount of inputs, properties or attributes. By breaking down the virtual world, to its most simplistic nuclei, the point, archaeologists can begin to understand the ramifications and rewards of digital archaeological methods, while formulating a new theoretical language to enhance the understanding of what digital means to archaeological study.

 


In an effort to have this paper peer reviewed and published, I have have taken this post down. For anyone interested in obtaining a PDF copy of this student paper, please contact me directly at wmcarter@ryerson.ca.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

May 22, 2017

I am pleased to announce that a modified version of this paper has now been published in the Virtual Archaeology Review and can be accessed here: https://polipapers.upv.es/index.php/var/article/view/6056. I’m grateful to my mentors Neal Ferris, Paul Reilly and Costis Dallas for their generous support and to Dr. José Luis Lerma for his constant editing suggestions as I developed this notion of Ingold’s wayfaring as a means to understanding meaning-making within 3D environments.

Cheers,

Michael

My second draft PhD Proposal

**Update the final approved PhD Proposal can be viewed here**

This is my second draft of my PhD Proposal.  My first is located here to compare.  In this round, I tried to better describe the actual research and how it might impact archaeological study.  I would really appreciate any thoughts or comments, negative or positive so I am able to better improve on this proposal.

Cheers,

Michael

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MICHAEL CARTER – PHD DISSERTATION PROPOSAL

WORKING TITLE: VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY, VIRTUAL LONGHOUSES AND “ENVISIONING THE UNSEEN” WITHIN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD.

Keywords: Virtual Archaeology, Virtual Reality, Archaeological Visualization, Archaeology, Northern Iroquoian Longhouses, Agency, Authenticity, Authority, Transparency.

Introduction

My PhD research will be comprised of two parts; a) the use of quantitative archaeological data, qualitative oral and historical accounts of 15th Century Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use, combined with virtual archaeology methods and theories, to envision and document a prototypical Iroquoian Longhouse, constructed within virtual space and b) to explore virtual archaeology meaning-making as it pertains to archaeologists perception of virtual reality and the visualization of archaeological data. By using the archaeological record as it pertains to the physicality of longhouse construction and use, we are able to envision the unseen. Many cultural, economic, societal and environmental factors help to inform this inquiry, however my desire and goal is to develop both a theoretical and virtual model of the fundamental features of a longhouse that is the manifestation of the dynamic archeological landscape, oral and written histories as well as the creative imagination of the artists and technicians who will ultimately be tasked with digitally reimagining these elusive, iconic and culturally significant architectural symbols of the Northern Iroquoian existence (Watts 2009; Woodworth 1998). Technology is at the point where we can provide an almost hyper-real experience to the participant viewer, may they be scholar, Descendant or the public (Frankland and Earl 2011; Forte 2014a; Gabellone et al. 2013; Giddings 2015; Morgan 2009; Moser and Smiles 2008). Further, that same technology potentially allows the participant to interpret and modify the objects and material being displayed/provided, giving them the ability to reorder, reinterpret or remix at will (Fisher and Twiss-Garrity 2007; Frankland and Earl 2011). These are the machinations that now loom over virtual archaeology and ones we must examine critically and systematically.

Background

Using the (re)imagination of a virtual Northern Iroquoian Longhouse in virtual reality as context to inform our exploration of virtual archaeology, this research will be guided by and include theoretical elements from Dawson, Levy and Lyons (phenomenology and presence), Reilly, Barceló, Frischer, Forte, Dallas, Huggett, Gillings (virtual archaeology) and Watts, Ferris, Robb, Frankland, Earl, Perry, Gosden, Denard (agency, authenticity, authority and transparency) among others from a virtual perspective and Dodd, Wright, Kapches, Snow, Williamson and others from a Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use perspective.

With rapid advancements in technology, there now exists a cornucopia of progressively successful attempts to engage the archaeological record within virtual reality or virtual archaeology. As with most applications of theory in reality, there too is a split between the qualitative and the quantitative nature of the technology and how it is implemented. Reilly, Barceló, Frischer and others see the digital tools, the process and the outcomes as part and parcel of the quantitative, scientific nature of archaeological research; data that should be represented by and through scientific means. Dawson, Levy, Lyons and Forte, see virtual archaeology as a phenomenological emotional experience in which the participant isn’t a passive viewer, but an equal partner in the exploration of the multi-vocal archaeological landscape where the data, material culture and the visual (re)imagination of the archaeological environment are engaged through the users eyes.

The transformative nature of technology and in particular our ability to manipulate digital data freely, whether visual or not, has given form to a multi-vocal approach to the interpretation of the archaeological record (Forte 2011, 2014a, 2014b). Following Hodder, Forte sees multi-vocal engagement within virtual archaeology as the ability to allow for multiple voices to engage and contribute to the overall interpretation of the virtual archaeological environment (2008; 2011, 2014a, 2014b). This authentic multi-vocal experience can lead to new research questions and hypotheses, disrupting the notion of the archaeologist as the interpreter of the “truth” (Earl 2013; Forte 2014b). As (digital) archaeologists, we are no longer the singular authoritative voice, but providers of material and assets in which stakeholders and the public themselves can construct and reimagine their own cultural presence within virtual space (see Earl 2013 & Perry 2014; Dasgupta 2006; Forte 2011 & 2014b).

Dawson, Levy and Lyons called this phenomenological experience presence; “the emotional connectedness of being transported to another time and place” (see Dawson et al. 2011). Although their study group were descendent participants, can this same experience be true for non-descendants as well? Can archaeologists use this technology and methodology in a phenomenological way to envision what isn’t seen in the archaeological record to better inform current and future research (see Watts 2009)?

Longhouses occupy a special narrative amongst descendent Iroquoian societies and modern archeologists. An active and engaged oral tradition has given the longhouse a spiritual existence in which the North American modern day longhouse continues to be a powerful symbol of community for those descendent populations, representing an architectural lineage that exemplifies agency and a unique way of life (see Heidenreich 1972; Kapches 1994; Mohawk 1978; O’Gorman 2010; Watts 2009; Woodworth 1998).   At the base level, the longhouse represents community in both physical and metaphysical traditions, embodying the physical to convey societal, cultural and political worldviews (Hayden 1968; Heidenreich 1972; Mohawk 1978; O’Gorman 2010; Ramsden 2009; Varley & Cannon 1994). For Iroquoian culture, the longhouse was a symbol of how the community functioned and was politically structured within their larger world, forming the boundaries of their influence, and symbolic of the longhouse itself (see Allen & Williams-Shuker 1998; Heidenreich 1972; O’Gorman 2010; Mohawk 1978). Though limited physical remnants remain of these structures, they are subjectively alive in the contested colonial writings and descriptions of historical explorers, the oral traditions of cultural descendants and the visual imagination of modern writers and filmmakers (Boyden 2013; Heidenreich 1972; Thwates 1896-1901).

Although the archaeological record reveals several centuries of longhouse and village-like settlement patterns for the Late Woodland, the modern perception of what a longhouse hypothetically looked and felt like is really derived from the latter part of the Late Woodland (sometimes referred to as the Terminal Woodland; see Ferris and Spence 1995), where archaeological and historical data come together to provide a general “convention” for what a longhouse “should be” (Snow 1997; Williamson 2004; Wright 1995). Further, it is these idealized non-native interpretations that continue to reinforce not only the academic but also the public’s notion of what a longhouse was and is (Williamson 2004). It is from these qualitative and quantitative data points that we will explore what a longhouse is physically within the archaeological and historical record.

My understanding of the visualization of longhouses from the archaeological record arises principally from the work of four archaeologists; J.V. Wright, Mima Kapches, Christine Dodd and Dean Snow. Due to the lack of any real physical evidence, models of longhouse use, style, agency, and construction have been hotly contested for decades (see Kapches 1994; Snow 1997; Williamson 2004; Wright 1995). The work of these archaeologists, in combination with continued observations and challenges from other exemplary researchers, form a base of understanding that helps to frame how longhouses were constructed. Using Dodd’s extensive quantitative research gleaned from an exhaustive review of longhouse data derived from field excavations (1984) and based on the qualitative and quantitative observations of Wright (1971), Kapches (1994) and Snow (1997) among others, a basic template for the construction of longhouses emerges. It is this template we seek to replicate virtually.

Rationale and Objectives

The study of Northern Iroquoian longhouses is a mercurial archaeological endeavour. Fragments of these once grand physical manifestations of social, cultural and political agency within the Late Iroquoian phases of the Ontario complex (Birch & Williamson 2013) are little more than “ghosts” below the soil line within the archaeological landscape. Soil stains are all that remain of the supporting posts and exterior walls of these unique cultural buildings representing only a small glimpse into how these dwellings once functioned or even looked.

These soil stains and the cultural material associated in and around the boundaries of these transitory structures, as well as historical Eurocentric writings and drawings and the oral traditions of descendent cultural groups, are what now form our archaeological understandings of the lifecycle of a longhouse, and more importantly, the cultural significance these structures played within Iroquoian life (Woodworth 1998). However, the enigma is that our understanding arising from these data points is imaginatively speculative at best and thus the challenge is to not only visualize these lost cultural manifestations, but also to embody all of the senses that the archaeological landscape cannot preserve; the haptic, olfactory and auditory – in other words the phenomenological (see Watts 2009). The ability to experience the application of sight, sound, smell, and touch in context, helps to embody the overall phenomenological archaeological experience (Dawson et al. 2011) and in turn may provide further understanding to the archaeological record. These are some of the challenges that frame the current debate on what a longhouse is and how it shapes our understanding of the lifeway of the people who thrived within these architectural representations of Iroquoian culture.

Virtual reality by definition is an interpretation of self within a different space, time or plane (see Sutherland 1965). It is narrative generating and thus both the technology and the process of creating virtual reality have borrowed heavily from the entertainment industry (see Frankland and Earl 2011 and Denard 2012). In doing so, by taking a creative approach to the interpretation of the archaeological data, the agency of that data is now layered upon and seen through the creators lens; what “artist’s impression” intend the virtual space to convey (see Earl 2013; Frankland and Earl 2011; Frischer et al. 2000; Moser and Smiles 2008; Perry 2015). The digital reproduction of objects, landscapes and narratives have agency both in the real and virtual worlds and as such must be treated with equal consideration and respect (Earl 2013; Forte 2014a; Huggett 2012a, 2015; Pauketat and Alt 2005; Richardson 2013; Robb 2010).

Thus my research will focus on the interpretive nature of virtual archaeology not only to visualize but also to inform archaeological research. It will embody the framework of agency, authority, authenticity and transparency by addressing them systematically through the research, visualization and dissemination of archaeological theory and knowledge as it pertains to the visualization of a typical Iroquoian longhouse. In doing so, my research will allow for a new perspective in longhouse construction and use, while further enabling a robust scientific approach to the use of virtual reality within archaeological research.

Case study

 This proposed research will provide representative visual material to be used as one interpretation based on the archaeological data, oral and written histories of an interactive phenomenological virtual representation of Iroquoian longhouse use within the pre-contact 15th Century, for the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA) and Sustainable Archaeology (SA). The design, development and implementation of virtual archaeological data are a relatively new approach to Iroquoian archaeological research and knowledge dissemination within Ontario. As such, this research will reflect on the experience of interpreting the data from a visual experience while still addressing and developing protocols to address agency, authority, authenticity, transparency and traditional Iroquoian archaeological research within virtual reality.

By virtualizing an Iroquoian longhouse and by disseminating this project by means of social media to the archaeological community, I hope to gain additional insight into the construction methodologies and use as perceived by experts within the community. This form of multivocal meaning-making will allow not only my research, but those of others to potentially voice how longhouse construction and use might have been employed by the 15th Century Northern Iroquoian peoples through a mashing of ideas and concepts. In doing so, I am engaging a broader knowledge base, while continuing to establish a visualization template developed through established quantitative archaeological data.

As the end product, a fully immersed virtual reality archaeological representation of a typical Iroquoian longhouse, will be presented to MOA guests, stakeholders and governmental representatives, the process and the product must adhere to accepted archaeological method and theory. It is in this process that my research will be tested not only by the data presented, but the phenomenological experience provided.

Methodology

Virtual Archaeology has become a powerful tool in the interpretation of archaeological landscapes and artifacts as a means of knowledge building and meaning making (see Dallas 2009, Earl 2013, Forte 2014a & 2014b, Huggett 2013 & Perry 2014). It has become a “mediating tool” allowing researchers to experiment with the data and to tease out the tensions that arise from a multi-vocal environment (see Dallas 2009 & Earl 2013). These alternate visions help to “stimulate interpretation” creating multi-channeled narratives which spur on additional and unforeseen research questions (Earl 2013). As such, what is apparent is that the practice/study/craft has transcended beyond the internal realm of archaeological study to be fully accepted externally as representative of archaeological studies without it really establishing itself as an accepted cannon of archaeological research (see Earl 2013 & Perry 2014). Thus the challenges virtual archaeology represents within the broader field of archaeological theory and method, is going beyond the perceived notion of the technology as a tool to archaeologically illustrate data, but as a transformative vehicle to engage with the material culture in a way that allows for all visions to be represented, tested and valued.

I intend to test the perceived notion of virtual archaeology and it’s ability or inability, to inform and contribute to the broader archaeological study between three sets of Heritage Professionals with specific expertise in Northern Iroquoian research: i) Academic and Professional Archaeologists who have had limited exposure to Virtual Archaeology, ii) Academic and Professional Archaeologists who have moderate to substantial exposure to Virtual Archaeology and iii) Heritage Professionals who deal with the knowledge dissemination of archaeological material to the broader public. To develop a representative base, I will seek a broad set of individuals in age, gender, professional experience and backgrounds. My goal is to: i) observe how Heritage professionals perceive the virtual environment in terms of authenticity, authority and agency, ii) document their interpretation of the representation and placement of digital assets, landscapes and structure as informed by my interpretation of the archaeological, oral and historical data, and iii) record any alternative meaning-making they themselves would develop after experiencing my interpretation of the archaeological record in virtual reality.

All study candidates will be given an option of choosing between a fully immersed virtual reality experience using Ocular Rift immersive goggles or a less immersive experience with a hand-held controller and TV display. The study methodology will comprise of: i) observations of the three types of study participants and ii) semi-structured interviews and commentary from the participants pre, in the course of and post virtual reality experience. A pre-experience questionnaire will be developed to determine the participant’s general perception of virtual archaeology. As the Ocular Rift goggles, hand held controllers and the computer platform that controls the data is highly portable, interviews will be ideally conducted in private at the participant’s place of choosing or a private, controlled room within the University. To ensure safety for the participants who choose the fully immersive experience, there will be an option to sit or stand with myself within arms length to guide the participant should their balance be affected. A medical release will be developed in conjunction with the pre-experience questionnaire. Once the subject is in position and engaged with the virtual environment, I will observe the participant’s body movements and non-prompted verbal responses. Lastly after the participant has engaged with the virtual environment, they will be interviewed in a semi-structured manner for no more than one hour with the allowance to provide additional feedback via email if desired. All observations and interviews will be video and audio recorded along with detailed field notes.

Participants will be asked to state their impressions from a professional perspective. They will be asked to comment on the detail or lack there of, of the 3D virtual objects, structure and environment. Prior to the virtual experience, I will ask participants to describe in as much detail as possible, based on their academic and professional expertise, what their vision of a 15th Century Northern Iroquoian longhouse looks and “feels” like. Through the interview, I will seek to understand their perceptions of the virtual environment in terms of agency of the objects and/or representation of the archaeological space, the authority in which the objects are represented and if that authority is enhanced or detracted by the style and manner in which the objects have been rendered. The authenticity of the material presented within the virtual environment based on their professional experience and the transparency in which the project was conducted in providing the appropriate level of detail and description during the (re)imagination process. Lastly feedback will be sought regarding their overall impression on whether virtual reality enhances the scientific methodology of archaeological research and thus, enables a new form of envisioning the archaeological record. I will compare the pre-entry and exit comments to determine if virtual archaeology has no, little or substantial effect on their professional opinion on the use of virtual archaeology as an established scientific methodology, personal meaning-making and desire to expand this process in their own archaeological research and dissemination.

Contribution

I am proposing to design, develop and implement a method for the visualization of archaeological data and speculative academic insight within virtual archaeological environments. That this research method is grounded in the theories that have formed around the study of virtual archaeology, specifically: agency, authenticity, authority and transparency. In doing so, I hope to build upon the continued work of Dodd, Wright, Kapches, Snow and others with regards to Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use.

The impact of this study could be substantial. Apart from the pioneering phenomenological work done by Dawson, Levy and Lyons, current research has indicated that no other project is attempting to phenomenologically recreate a 3D virtual pre-contact native dwelling to the level and sophistication usually reserved for high-end gaming or film production. Further, following the recent development of The London Charter, this project will endeavor to develop a body of transparent knowledge, which is archaeological community based and encourages debate and opinion throughout the visualization process. Lastly this project will impact and contribute to the ongoing research and debate on virtual archaeology, it’s application, use and substantial contribution to the study and discipline of archaeology. Using the current language of digital media dissemination, I am attempting to develop a virtual archaeological 3D Wiki; a real-time tool that will eventually allow archaeologists and stakeholders to input as an active member or lurk as a passive participant in the personal archaeological knowledge building process.

Timeline

In progress: I have already constructed using the available archaeological data, a 3D representation of a prototypical Northern Iroquoian Longhouse, along with associated household objects within Maya and have ported those assets into the Unity Game Engine. Testing is currently being conducted on the use of Ocular Rift as a phenomenological engagement platform and Beta deployment of the Longhouse representation has been tested amongst Heritage Professionals for antidotal impressions of the theme and technology used.

Further, following The London Charter, all steps in the design, development, current implementation and knowledge dissemination of this virtual archaeological research have been recorded and made available specifically to the archaeological community and the public at large through the use of social media.

November 2015 – January 2016: Completion of the 3D construction of the longhouse and associated assets within Maya with a final porting of those assets into the Unity Game Engine. Technical testing of the delivery platform(s) using Ocular Rift, Desktop and Internet based systems.

Relevant ethics protocols will be acquired as needed for my case study of user experiences by heritage professionals.

January – March 2016: I will conduct interviews of Heritage professionals. Transcribe any audio and videos collected and collate written comments provided by the focus group participants.

March – December 2016: Preparation of my dissertation. Any interview participants, named and/or quoted, will be given the opportunity to approve whether and in what context their quoted statements appear in the final products.

A detailed breakdown of the approximated thesis section deadlines:

I am choosing to use the Integrated-Article format for my dissertation writing option.

Jan-Mar 2016:                        Article 1 – Case Study (Last 2 weeks of Mar: Revisions)

Mar-June 2016:         Article 2 – Literature Review (Last 2 weeks of Mar: Revisions)

July-Aug 2016:           Article 3 – Methodology (Last 2 weeks of Aug: Revisions)

Sept-Oct 2016:           Introduction (Last 2 weeks of Sept: Revisions)

Nov-Jan 2017:                        Conclusions (First 2 weeks of Jan: Revisions)

Jan-Feb 2017:                        Final Revisions and edits

Early Mar 2017:         Send out complete draft to advisors

End of Mar 2017:       Submit

April 2017:                 Defend and publish finished PhD dissertation.

 

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Longhouse 3.5.6

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.

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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.

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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.

Slide01
Good morning and welcome to the B3D Conference!
Slide02
As much as we love adventure, this is not the reality of archaeology! However, Archaeology is all about the Narrative!
Slide03
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.
Slide04
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.
Slide05
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.
Slide06
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.
Slide07
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.
Slide08
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.
Slide09
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?
Slide10
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.
Slide11
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.

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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.

Slide01
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
Slide02
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.
Slide03
Education – an immersive, interactive and effective tool for teaching, a VR application can be shared and experienced anywhere on the planet.
Slide04
Archival/heritage – preservation, collection of data/knowledge. Experiencing data, research, history from anywhere. Access to all.
Slide05
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)
Slide06
Craig spoke from memory.
Slide08
Craig spoke from memory. Image is from the Heritage Toronto event.
Slide09
Craig spoke from memory. Images from the Toronto Heritage event.
Slide10
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.
Slide11
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
Slide12
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
Slide13
This is the animated sequence Longhouse 3.5.5.
Slide14
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.

Slide15

 

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.

Cheers,

Michael

 

 

Longhouse 3.5.5

IMG_4566It’s been a whirlwind week here.  Craig, Jamie Kwan and I attended the Heritage Toronto Gala Tuesday night to roll out the first public viewing of Longhouse3.x.  Jamie was my graduate research assistant this year in the Master in Digital Media program here at Ryerson University, who used his architectural training to help visualize the modern interpretation of a 3D longhouse in Longhouse 2.5.  It proved to be a stellar night and full of surprises from a research perspective.  I want to thank Heritage Toronto for the opportunity to present our work and a special thanks to Claire van Nierop and Ron Williamson from ASI for inviting us to be part of their presentation.

IMG_0169

Due to some last minute difficulties we had running the Ocular Rift DK2 on our Alienware Laptop, we switched to a monitor setup with XBox360 controllers for people to use for one station and Craig used his HP Laptop and OR DK2 for our virtual reality experience. Both interaction platforms were well received, but the OR obviously was the favourite choice among the 30+ or so people who participated.

VR_HTGala

We had a wide range of age, genders and Heritage professionals and enthusiasts try the VR experience.  A non scientific observation was that our female participants spent a considerable amount of time within the environment, experiencing and observing all of the aspects of the reimagined longhouse, while our male participants usually donned the VR for it’s “cool” factor and then ran around quickly without taking the time to notice all of the elements within the environment.  As we had older guests and also didn’t know who among our potential visitors might have ocular issues when putting on the headset, we chose to go with a seating position to ensure some stability for those who might encounter balance issues.  Headphones were used to focus the hearing into the virtual space (which was a combination of forest, water, animal and burning fire sounds based on where you were).  The controller was used to move the individual forward or backwards with the head movement dealing primarily with where you would look in VR space.  As one visitor observed, the OR DK2 naturally allowed the Heritage professionals to look up and around, as they would normally do.  One feature we didn’t have was a crouch command to allow people to inspect objects on the ground or below the standard height within the gaming environment.

The video loop above is our latest test of the longhouse within Unity5.  By staging the visualization of items in the longhouse with everyday domestic items such as food and cooking utensils, it started further discussions on potential placement and use of those items within the space.  Additional constraints involved the light and how it would effect shadows and highlights within what would really be a dark environment.  Lastly, Craig had added smoke from all of the fires, but we soon discovered that it really filled the entire space, especially at the 4-5ft level with a dense fog which made it difficult to see the details in the models. We plan to provide a smoke and non-smoke version shortly to demonstrate what it would be like, which would likely be very unpleasant to function in during the long winter months.

LH3x_1

We added items such as cooking tools, pots and bowls (even with liquid in some….boiling to come later) but the placement is completely assumed and somewhat random.  We can easily change position and hopefully in the next couple of iterations we should be able to pick up objects and move them elsewhere.  Craig did a wonderful job replicating the bowls and spoons and we used previously modelled Iroquoian ceramics from the Sustainable Archaeology test in Longhouse 2.2, although we did have to vastly simplify the students models for the gaming environment.

LH3x_2

One of the major issues we encountered was the complexity and detail we had been adding into the environment.  There has been a lot of thought and detail put into every element and along the way we have tried to optimize the digital assets so that real-time play would not be compromised, but it was clear with the test we did at Heritage Toronto that some creative “faking” will need to happen so as to speed things up virtually. This faking method would be to use texture maps instead of models for things such as bark cordage/rope, using more pre-rendered complex images and greatly reducing the polygon count on each of the objects within the scene.

LH3.x_3

Another observation was with the outside bark shingles.  They look bright and new and it’s likely that vast amounts of moss and other errant plant material would be growing on the sides, edges and tops of the longhouse.  Rotting of some sort would have taken root as well with the shingles itself and I suspect there would be discolouration due to weathering.  We still need to add the exterior exoskeleton which helps to stabilize and support the shingles.

LH3x_4

This test marks a major stage in the research.  We are fairly close to the final product and will likely be spending the next month or so cleaning up the assets, increasing the speed of the virtual interaction and hopefully providing some user abilities at least in this version for users to pick up objects and possibly interact with the environment more substantially.  As an artist, I crave the hyperreal fully rendered images and sequences, but practically to allow for as many people to engage with the research, a gaming engine is needed and thus that hyperreal look becomes more stylized.

LH3x_5

I would encourage our weekly readers to post comments or send questions through email.  This is how we are learning about new theories, methods and perspectives which only strengthens the projects goals.  Take a spin through the rendered gaming sequence and feel free to comment!

If you are in Midland Ontario this weekend, don’t forget to attend the Ontario Archaeology Societies Symposium – Circles of Interaction: The Wendat and their Neighbours in the Time of Champlain!

Cheers,

Michael

 

 

 

Longhouse 3.5

SKW_RollerPosterThis has been an extremely busy week.  Craig and I have been working hard on finalizing the vestibule entrances to the longhouse and how the Elm bark shingles would be positioned. Because of the Toronto Heritage event on October 13th, we’ve also sped up the development process a little so that hopefully Mayor John Tory and the other Toronto Heritage guests will be able to experience something unique during the event. The image on the right is a mock up of a roller poster we are having printed for the event and for future talks. The project has also gone through a little rebranding to Longhouse 3.x or LH3.x. It’s obviously a play on Web3.0 and everything that entails currently, so some of the website has changed to fit with the new branding.

Since our first post in Longhouse 1.0, you will notice a change in writing from purely academic to more casual blog style. Although I’ve spoken about this a few times, don’t let the style fool you. We are working at great pains to ensure the data being presented is represented within the archaeological, historical or oral records and when they are not, we are clearly identifying the assumptions being made. This is a conscious effort to ensure we are conducting this research with transparency and following The London Charter on virtual archaeology research and dissemination. The project itself is by no means meant to be a final interpretation but a gateway to further research and investigation which segues nicely into today’s post.

We’ve also been getting a little bit of blog notice as well. It all started at the beginning of the project with a short but well thought out mention in Geoff Carter’s (no relation BTW) Theoretical Structural Archaeology blog . Yesterday I had noticed a massive jump in visitors to the website from France and realized it was due to a short mention in the French website 3DVF.com mentioning the project.

LH3x_3DVF

As of this post, there has been over 700 views on the blog above, so many thanks to 3DVF for highlighting our project!

 

Getting into the project now, we have been working specifically on the vestibule and Elm bark wood shingles. According to Christine Dodd’s 1984 research, the vestibules on either end of the longhouse had the same width and height dimensions of the main longhouse and was generally 4.2-4.7m’s deep.  There was also an indication that the front of the vestibule would taper from main longhouse width of 7m’s to about 5.3-5.8m’s wide on the front entrance.

The image below is from the 2008 Alexandra excavation in Ontario by ASI. It clearly shows a building expansion process of a longhouse that occurred over three different phases.  However it does demonstrate the vestibule taper mentioned above quite nicely. It is also a nice visual to demonstrate the reconstruction process that occurred when a longhouse community needed to expand. You’ll notice that the end of the vestibule continue to be rounded and there seems to be clear areas in which a doorway would have occurred. Most significant is the slight veering to the right of the actual walls as the extension is grafted onto the original existing longhouse. Lastley, the final expansion has a relatively clear vestibule area with no straws (which is our way of denoting post hole stains during excavation). This is significant in a couple of ways as it demonstrates it was purely for storage and that the last reconstruction didn’t need additional posts to support any roofing or structural issues that may have occurred after the remodeling.2008_Alexandra_ASISeen in the image below, we have adopted Dodd’s dimensions for the vestibule.  Also, our flat roof approach for the smoke holes and the bark shingles that surround it has worked out well. We will add flaps later to allow for the holes to be closed and to represent the descriptions of bark flaps being opened from the interior of the house with long poles.

Lawson Site
From Jacob M. Anderson’s book The Lawson Site: An Early Sixteenth Century Neutral Iroquoian Fortress (Special Publication No. 2. Museum of Ontario Archaeology, 2009, page 70)

The flat roof has caused slight issues with having the bent vestibule posts terminate properly at the roofline.  We will also need to revisit how the poles would have been attached because there typically wasn’t a superstructure within the vestibules like the main part of the longhouse. So climbing onto the vestibule exterior framing would have been more challenging mainly because the framing wouldn’t be as stable as the rest of the house.Vestibule1You will notice that we’ve tried to approximate how this lightweight structure would have been terminated at the roofline.  There is some immediate issue with how we’re bending the poles on the sides which Craig and I will have to address later in the revisions. Currently there isn’t enough wall posts. As you can see in the excavation plan from the Lawson site below, the rounded ends have a substantially larger volume of post holes grouped tighter together.The profile image below gives us a nice representation of what we “think” is a typical rounded vestibule.  Again we are being influenced by several factors namely previous physical reconstructions, limited historical drawings and to be honest, our grade 4 classes in Native history which always seem to emphasize a “half cigar shaped” shape.

Vestibule3

Lastly, to frame the door below and to terminate that framing so it matches the roofline, we’ve added short bracers above the doorway in order to have a continuous rounded connection between the two halves of the vestibule walls.  Again these wall posts/poles would have had a diameter of about 1-3 inches with a natural taper in length.  We have also kept the door at 3ft x 6ft which will later be covered with a skin curtain.

Vestibule4

The next set of images are revisions on the structural elements of the vestibules.  We added more support posts, but would likely have to add substantially more poles to meet archaeological records in terms of post density.  I’m still not fully convinced of the current termination points on the roof, but for now it’s an estimated guess and will be something additional to add to our list for future research.Vestibule6

A slightly camera distorted front view of the entrance.  The archaeological record also reveals that the doorways were not always centered (either by construction mistakes or by design) and that some longhouses had the doors on the side, along the length of the building.Vestibule7

A side profile view of the entire interior and exterior framing to date.  It’s clear now that we have to increase the amount of poles used in order to replicate the archaeological record, however one of the issues we are now facing is the amount of 3D data within the actual model.  The more modeled surfaces, the slower the interaction when in the game environment, so even at this point I’m starting to weigh the need to maintain archaeological accuracy with the technical requirements of providing a fully interactive experience.

Vestibule8The wall and roofing system of the longhouse is primarily to support the bark shingles.  We’ve used Elm bark 1x2m shingles, with a randomizing pattern.  I can see some need for further randomization of the textures but this is definitely a good start.  Once fully shingled, we will need to add the bracing ex-skeleton that was used to keep the shingles in place and to act as a support system to increase the rigidity of the entire structure.

EXT_Vest8

Up until this point, all of our image renders have been in Maya.  When lighting is added within Maya and if the model is created to be hyperreal, then the final images will come out spectacularly crisp and clean.  Additionally, if properly composited with other elements like atmospherics and possible real life images, these models above can and will look lifelike.

By comparison below, we give you our first rendering in Unity 5 of the longhouse fully shingled!LH_Unity_Ext_LoRezThis is our first test to see if the textures will hold up to a resolution higher than the standard 72dpi of digital screens.  Below is the lighting rendering test for the interior of the house.  As you can see in game mode it takes on a slightly stylized appearance. This will change to a more photorealistic/hyperreal experience once we compile the actual Unity game in 64bit and make our lighting and environmental tweaks.LH_Unity_Int_LoRez

It’s been a very exciting time to finally enclose our structure.  At lot of effort to date has been to provide a transparent model of project development in virtual archaeology and some insight into the micro decisions that are made throughout the process. Further, it’s been a team effort with Craig, who has been an invaluable source providing a wealth of artistic and technical knowledge.

We have compiled a simple walkthrough to start testing the experience on various platforms and will be spending the next week making all of the model and lighting adjustments needed for our first public reveal!

Again, if you have any comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

**Addendum**

On Friday October 2nd, I received a great email and question from Bill Engelbrecht:

I’m enjoying your work.  Did you come across any information on door height? I’ve speculated (Defense in an Iroquoian Village) that low doorways would have added a measure of protection. An enemy entering would be forced to be bent over and would be at a disadvantage. This occurred in a number of warring societies, but I couldn’t find any info. on door height in Iroquoia.
My response to Bill was:
Hi Bill,
Many thanks for your email!  You raise a great point which I should have mentioned in my post today!
My height estimate is really coming from three sources; the Jesuit Relations, Christine Dodd’s work on longhouse dimensions and in this case, bunk widths and physical anthropology research on the height of the average Frenchman in the 1600’s.  In the JR they state that the Iroquoian people were about the same height as themselves or just slightly taller.  I had searched for PA data on 1600’s era Frenchmen and found on average they were 5’6″ in height and Dodd’s research indicated that the common sleeping bench width was 1.5-2m’s wide so in between the 5’6″-6′ height.
The width estimate is a little more tricky as I’ve found archaeological data yet that can suggest a common door width.  I suspect that’s easy to find but would require some additional site map evaluation.
To be honest, I’m making a guess but in talking it out with you, I like the idea of a lower door height to the 5’5″ or 5’6″ level which would require most people to stoop a little.  I was hesitant to do so only because I couldn’t find anything in the JR that indicated the Father’s had to stoop to get in (as they basically complained about everything else).
What is your experience telling you?
Bill’s question raised a great question in which I’m not sure if there has been any research done.  As seen in the Alexandra picture and the Lawson site map above, actual doorways are difficult to discern.  I’m wondering if anybody has done a survey of known archaeological excavations in which a doorway is clearly present and what the distance is between post-hole stains?  I haven’t found any yet, but if anybody does, please let us know.
I’m also interested if anybody has found information on doorway height and it’s cultural and/or defensive practices for making it shorter than the average height of the Iroquois or Iroquoian people?
Thanks Bill for raising such a great question!

Longhouse 3.4.5

This has been an extremely busy week.  Craig and I are now in high gear preparing for our first public showing of Longhouse 3.0 on October 13th during the Toronto Heritage Gala reception and then on October 23rd we are the opening speakers for the B3D Design Conference here in Toronto.  Our session in 3D Design – Graphics and Storytelling will include gaming and 3D animation industry guru Athomas Goldberg and Mummiologist Dr. Andrew Nelson as we talk about the use of 3D environments for narrative and research.

B3D

For the Toronto Heritage event we will be running Longhouse 3.x in Unity 5 on two Alienware Laptops with Ocular Rift DK1 & DK2 headsets and Xbox 360 game controllers.  All modelling was done in Autodesk Maya and Mudbox.

 

At the end of Longhouse 3.4, I posted the first of our Unity renders with the current Longhouse in the gaming/virtual reality environment.  This was our first real test of porting the assets over from Maya and configuring the exterior lighting.  A dummy background was used to give it placement within an environment and our test sky with horizon was added.

LH_game3In addition to the environment, we repositioned the cedar bark inner wall sheets horizontally instead of vertically and made sure that each of the 3D bark sheets had their own unique composition.  As you can see in the image above, you can make out the notion of gaps in the bark sheets.  Again, we have no clue how the sheets were attached to the interior framing structure, but it has been suggested that bark cordage was used to tie off the sheets to each other and the superstructure.  As cedar bark was used, which is considerably more pliable and lightweight, smaller gauge rope cordage could be used.

LH_game2Walking through the doorway, we’re starting to get a feel for the immensity of the space which will fill up quickly with the centre fire hearth line, goods and people.LH_game4We have been using Unity and the Ocular Rift glasses to do “site inspections” to check how the model is holding up in virtual space and to understand if we have missed any of the constant stylistic and research determined micro-changes we are making to the environment.  On the top left post above, you can see the handprint textures and the detail on the rope cordage holding the bunking system together.

LH_game1The centre roof line has been designed to allow for the smoke holes to move in response to Varley and Cannon’s 1994 research on changing fire hearth/pit positions within excavated longhouses.  We are thinking that when the fire hearth below moved, the Iroquoian builders would just reposition the exterior bark shingles to allow for a new smoke hole and subsequently covered up the old one.

Below is our first real Unity 5 environment test. The test is directly out of Unity in preview mode, meaning that it hasn’t been fully built, rendered and baked into the Unity space. When the models, textures and effects are fully coded into the game engine, the visual quality and feedback will be substantially better. Obviously we have more models and assets to add and build, so the environment when finished will have a completely different feel.  Lastly, this is a full VR walk-through captured as screen on screen.

Even in low resolution the first walkthrough raised more questions and observations. The images above are actually Craig walking in real-time around the longhouse.  He’s wearing an Ocular Rift DK2 headset and using a Xbox 360 hand controller to move around, jump and do directional head movements.

The fire (a particle system) is sparking obviously way too much. I first thought, “this place is going to go up in flames” (like it would in Minecraft)! Our fire wood would not be stacked up and we would likely have to slightly animate logs shifting in the fire hearth as they brake down in the fire.  We used Ron Williamson’s experimental archaeology adventure in a real longhouse (mentioned in Longhouse 3.3) as a basis to determine the fire hearth circumference of .6-.8m’s in diameter. However, the distance between the sleep births or even the sleeping space on the ground around the fire hearth looks dangerously minimal. At about 1.31 in the video, we “hop” over the fire in traditional gamer mode, but I noticed that even when following the archaeological data, the fire hearth seemed too close to the inner doorway.

The exterior environment is still in “basic” mode, but we’re trying to convey that the land surrounding the longhouse would likely have been well worn or even muddy at certain times of the years. We will likely bring a palisade wall into the mid-ground of the exterior shot just to enclose/constrain the longhouse vista a little more. Basic bird, wind and other effects sounds have been added and will need to be refined.

However it has been an excellent first test and should be a good indication of the minimal level of detail that can be achieved.

Elm_Shingle_Sample2Lastly we are now starting to add the longhouse shingles.  In Southwestern Ontario it has been suggested by Neal Ferris that White Elm would probably have been the predominate and suitable bark used for shingling the exterior of the longhouses. The grain would run horizontal to allow for easy discharge of any water running down the longhouse and they would likely be overlapping from the ground upwards.  The traditional “turtle shell” look of overlapping layers seems the most logical approach and has been readily used throughout physical reconstruction of longhouses since the 1970’s.

Once the shingles are on the house, the only light that will penetrate the structure will be emanating from the exterior doorways, the smoke holes and any gaps between the bark shingles.

drying_barkWe used the image to the right from www.woodlandindianedu.com as inspiration for the White Elm 1x2m shingle.  The texture maps help provide a geometry “bump”, which gives the impression the 3D model object is actually modelled bumpy.  This technique allows us to render 3D assets and bake them into memory much faster, which improves the real-time interactivity.

 

It has been an exciting week to finally see the longhouse within VR space and to be able to walk around the structure.  Please keep in mind we are always looking for comments, direction and opinions, so do not hesitate to leave a note.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longhouse 3.4

Craig and I are midway through finishing the exterior and have been preplanning for the additional assets that will be added in order to populate the longhouses. In Film & Television production we call these assets “props”, which act as tools to enhance the emotions or phenomenological experience of the viewer in a particular scene or environment. These assets also help to engage the participant by giving the viewer multiple areas to explore visually and hopefully in our case, through virtual physical interaction.

One of the biggest issues with previous examples of heritage reconstruction within virtual reality has been the clean, sterile environments that are typical of early attempts at 3D. The lack of associated objects which would normally be within a certain context, the dirty, grimy textures of everyday life and the environmental elements such as dust, rain and natural sunlight all play an enormous role that helps convey a narrative whether interactive or not. These visual cues suggest that the reconstruction is just not about the structures itself, but the entire context in which the archaeological landscape lives.

Traditionally a “vision board” or similar technique is used as research for the artists who are visualizing the environment in which the participant viewer will occupy within the 3D space.  Multiple elements are considered and for our purposes I’ve broken those elements down to key areas, everyday living activities and props that will enhance the overall feel as well as generate more research questions. Again the oral histories are scarce and the only substantial historical accounts are from Eurocentric Jesuit Fathers and New World adventurers. Any visuals that exist today are in essence, a romanticized, European visualization of longhouse life. Any visuals that do exist from time of contact are in typical 16th century sketch form and highly stylized and romanticized.

pomeioc1Essentially we will be gleaning imagery that will be interpretations of interpretations, with ours being yet another semi-educated guess based on the archaeological information available and the artistic mindset that we ourselves bring with us.

I would envision a longhouse as being both a massive storage and living area, empty and quiet in the warmer months but heavily populated in the winter. I’m heavily influenced by the movie Black Robe. Although I haven’t seen it in its entirety since the 1990’s but I was struck by the cramped, smokey, grimy and heavily goods and people laden communal living environment the movie portrayed.   One would assume this vision would be close to the normal living conditions as up to 32 or more people could have occupied an 8 bunk or 24m long, longhouse.BlackrobeStarting with the interior rafters, drying supplies such as corn, bark cordage, furs, skins, tobacco, herbs, meat, fish and other goods that the inhabitants didn’t want ground dwelling vermin to attack would be hung in abundance for the long winters storage.

Interior_longhouse_raftersAll the images above are modern (20th Century) artist renditions with the three images on the right hand side actual longhouse reconstructions. I particularly like the top and bottom right images as they really start to convey what the atmosphere of the longhouse environment would be like.

The next vision board was dedicated to the cooking and heating hearths, food supplies and other household items. The images are a mix of Iroquois and Iroquoian replicated goods and longhouse interiors. As far as I can find to date, there are no visual reproductions of Iroquoian goods dating from the 16th-19th Century with only images of 20th Century replicate items.  I should also state that my particular study is in longhouse visual and phenomenological reconstruction and not other areas of Iroquoian life such as ceramics. So I’m going to endeavor to ensure we have Iroquoian examples of pottery modeled and placed within the 3D reconstruction, but if the dates are out on the ceramics we model, please just let me know.

Interior_longhouse_food_fireCorn, squash, nuts, berries and other plants and tubers were part of the Iroquoian diet at different times of the year, with a mixture of fish and game meat making up the daily intake. Cooking those items ranged from a large pot of boiling water or broth to using flat rocks to bake or fry. Roasting spits are usually depicted, but again the histories are scarce on what the cooking areas actually looked like. We assume based on some archaeological excavations that there was a shallow pit, ringed by stones in which embers and slow burning fires were kept. Some suggest there were separate cooking fires away from the heating hearths, however all were roughly aligned down the middle of the longhouse floor.

Interior_longhouse_bark_storageBark and wood was heavily used for storage and cooking utensils. In the image above, these are examples of early 18th Century Iroquoian/Iroquois storage and water containers. Most are made out of pliable birch bark while there are some modern version of what a bark or reed weaved basked might look like. Bowls and spoons were made out of wood. In the rounded vestibules at the entrance of the longhouses there would have been larger bark caskets to hold grains, corn and other items such as apples or squash.

Under the bunks would be the supplies of smaller firewood, with the larger pieces stored in the vestibules. Visually we have to remember that the firewood itself wouldn’t have been cleanly cut as the tools would have still been stone at this point, so I’m envisioning a considerable amount of broken branches, twigs and rotting trunks that would make up the daily supplies of wood fuel.Exterior_longhouse_environmentFor our virtual experience we have chosen to represent one single longhouse and it’s interior. However the exterior longhouse and village environment has to be represented in some manner. The images above again show stylized 20th Century reproductions of Iroquoian villages and environment. Perfect palisades, organized longhouses and clean and green ground throughout the village. I suspect like any well-used environment, grass or organic growth was worn down or non-existent. Plant growth would have occurred in spots where there was less human traffic, such as long the edges of longhouses or out of the direct path from one destination to another. Racks for drying fish and game, skins and furs would have likely populated the area as well as storage, refuse and maybe latrine pits? As we are intentionally limiting access to the broader virtual environment beyond our single longhouse, the sky, tree-line, possible palisade and other dummy longhouses will act as a backdrop for now until we move onto populating the environment with various types of virtual longhouses.

Iroquois_women_workLastly, we have intentionally avoided representing Iroquoian and especially Neutral Native Americans in 3D. Representing and characterizing people from different cultures or even pre-historical times is wrought with problems, especially since any European historical account would be highly racially subjective. Craig and I have talked at length about how to represent the mass of people within a longhouse, without imposing any stereotypes ourselves. One method would be to have greyed anamorphic human characters, with no distinguishing details represent the physical space Iroquoian inhabitants would have occupied within the longhouse. Another option would be to work with the descendent Iroquoian artists and leaders to build characters that would be representative of the peoples of that time similar to what was done for Assassin’s Creed III. However I would like to see a training program developed to allow for Native gamers to build their own stories, characters and environments providing not only 3D assets but a rich set of narrative games based on their own histories, myths and legends.

So as you can see, the assets we intend to use within the virtual longhouse is a mix of modern stylized imagery and a broad set of assumptions on our behalf. However, by attempting to populate what would be a sterile 3D environment with objects, effects and atmospherics, the virtual space becomes more lively, realistic and potentially representative.

LH_game3

The Wanderbirds!

This blog is dedicated to my Mentor and Friend, Kaj Pindal.

IMG_7947In the fall of 2004 I met Kaj Pindal professionally while working temporarily as the Program Coordinator for the BAA in Animation at Sheridan College.  Although I knew of Kaj and had had him as a guest speaker when I was at Sheridan as a student in the 90’s, I really didn’t get a chance to know him as a colleague in the animation industry.  Everybody in the Canadian industry knew Kaj as the father of the NFB short, Peep and the Big Wide World which started out as an animation test in 1962 called The Peep Show which would eventually become the Emmy Award Winning WGBH series Peep and the Big Wide World.  Although Kaj had had a distinguished career at the then fledgling National Film Board Animation Unit in Montreal and was even nominated for an Oscar in 1967 for the animated short film What on Earth with fellow animator Les Drew, it was his career after the NFB that caught most of the student’s attention.  He had a gift for animating and spent a good time going around the world talking, demonstrating, working and researching with the other great minds and leaders in the industry.

Kaj wandered into my office one day and sat down.  It was his way of introducing himself and getting to know the new faculty and staff.  I remember him distinctly asking what I did in the industry and explaining I was now Producing children’s shows, in which he replied….I might have a couple of ideas.…..in his trademark long Danish accented, Kaj Pindal drawl.  Sure enough, buy March of 2005, Kaj and I had started working on his next project called “The Immigrants”.

Immi_MipJr

 

Kaj envisioned a family of Penguins who lived on the South Pole called the “Guins”.  Their habitat was overcrowded and shrinking with the melting ice cap and an over friendly seagull suggested they make their way up to the North Pole, where food and ice was abundant!  The “Guins” would venture out into this big wide world as newcomers to strange and different lands as they journeyed North to the promised oasis called the North Pole.

camel

Essentially it was a “fish out of water story” with a nice cultural and environmental theme.  In 2005 it was timely due to the environmental concerns being discussed, but when I see the massive refugee crisis that has hit the world in 2015, I’m awed at Kaj’s innate ability to be forward thinking while discreetly pushing major themes within a global context.

WB-Bears

We got to work developing the pitch bible, checking with broadcasters on their needs as well as bringing in production partners for the inevitable animated test that most funders want to see before they put any money up for a full production. One of the major stumbling blocks was the title.  Although being old-school, I knew where Kaj was going with it.  In the 1940’s Kaj had spent his youth in Denmark drawing cartoons of Hitler for the Danish Underground, so he had seen his fair share of hardships and flight but the title had to change as the broadcasters just didn’t like it.

In true Kaj fashion, he went away for a bit to ruminate on the dilemma and came back with The Wanderbirds!  He based his title on a very popular European pre-WWI youth group that emphasized hiking, swimming, camping and travelling to other countries; called the Wandervogel, which had a bird for its emblem.

 

WB-Title

With an excellent title in hand, a good working storyline, all we needed was an animation test.  I had gotten to know the industry leaders in flash animated series, Fatkat Studios in New Brunswick very well.  They were a great bunch of classically trained animators, the people Kaj thrived working with.  With a trip out to see them, Kaj and I had secured an agreement to produce a trailer in hopes they would get further work when/if the project was greenlit.

The trailer was short, but as you can see above, the style and timing was all Kaj.  I placed the trailer into MipCom Jr. in Cannes France during the 2005 MipCom broadcast sales and distribution market.  Along with The Wanderbirds Pitch in hand, we immediately received interest while at the market.  However now that I was an independent producer and not working for Calibre Digital Pictures/Alliance Atlantis anymore, broadcasters were a little risk averse and advised Kaj and I to partner with a larger Executive Producer in order to make the financing work.

Oddly enough we had three Canadian Exec Prod’s interested in representing the project; GalaKids, CCI Entertainment and Shaftesbury Entertainment.  In 2006 we came to a Development IP agreement with Shaftesbury, who then started working on the broadcasters to fund the series.  Over roughly a two year span, Shaftesbury worked hard to try and bring the Wanderbirds to life, but by then the broadcasters had too many other penguin shows.  The IP agreement ran out with Shaftesbury and the property was returned to Kaj and I to try and repitch.  It was 2008 and at the start of the American recession, so the decision was made to shelve the project indefinitely.

This was the first of many development project experiences I had.  I was grateful to Kaj for putting faith in me to at least represent his final series attempt in a professional manner.  Substantial money was spent, as it always is in our business, but in the end the market decides what is fresh and new.

Watching the events unfold around the world now, I think about how the “Guins” would face these struggles.   Hopefully with determination, love and a little ingenuousness as Kaj always envisioned!
WB-Car

Longhouse 3.3.5

I wanted to relay some great news for the project!  Craig and I have been asked to unveil the final version of the Virtual Longhouse on October 13th during the reception for the Heritage Toronto Gala.  This is an exciting opportunity for us to test in public with Heritage professionals, their first impressions of this virtual reality tool set and methodology.  However, you the viewer, will get some pre-event exposure was we start to wrap up the exterior of the building and start adding the phenomenological details inside and out over the next few weeks!

After averting disaster last week in Longhouse 3.3, we were able to get back to finishing the interior structural requirements.  However, I wanted to explain a little further the confusion people have regarding changes within 3D modelling.   In the 20 years of CGI production, this was the greatest client management issue we had to deal with.  CGI/3D is flexible, but after a certain point, the model either has to be taken apart piece by piece and remodelled and/or completely rebuilt.  In our case, since Craig took the time to make sure that all of the model details where themselves individual separate pieces, we could scale the width and height easily of the main support structure, without causing the same scaling issues on the other model elements.  Even minor changes take time to do, however if this was a service production and the archaeologist or heritage stakeholder continued to make the minor changes Craig and I have been doing, it would get very expensive very fast.  The key for future heritage stakeholders is to have a well thought out plan before executing in 3D. This way any revisions can be minor.

I’m quite happy with the outcome of our process so far.  Following The London Charter in terms of transparency in the decisions we have taken has been liberating.  By giving you the reader the full access to the problems, issues and angst we are encountering has helped in being able to identify issues and new areas of research.  Tom Frankland and Graham Earl (2011), Jeremy Huggett (2012 & 2013) and Sara Perry (2015)  have all recently discussed the role of the archaeologist-as-artist and the pitfalls related to the lack of transparency and authenticity in the production of virtual archaeology.  This in turn I hope, has provided a solid “insiders” view of the production process.

Below is what we are considering a structurally sound, reimagination of the interior structural system of a Northern Iroquoian Longhouse.  To bring later readers up to speed, we used Christine Dodd’s quantitative research on longhouse measurements and her subsequent “a-typical” dimensions to build our virtual longhouse.  It was to be 7m’s wide, 7m’s high and 24m’s long.  The bunks were to be no longer than 2m’s in depth and 4m’s in length along the longhouse walls.  Interior support posts were roughly 15cm’s in diameter and exterior wall posts 3-5cm’s in diameter.  Following Dean Snow, the bunks were to be 30cm’s off the ground with the top bunk (or compartment roof) being no higher than 4-5m’s.  Also following Snow, we added cedar bark walls to separate each family unit bunk space.  Following Mima Kapches we use the bent wall post arbour effect but used Dean Snow’s concept of a 60% wall and 40% roof for proportions.  To provide interior stabilization, we used Bill Kennedy’s and Geoff Carter’s suggestions of a solid wall to wall lateral support structure.  We followed Ron Williamson’s modern interpretation of the top roofline and smoke holes and lastly J.V. Wright’s excellent observations on specific wood types for each part of the longhouse construction, the number of wall poles per meter and the taper length associated with that wood type being used.  Along the way Craig and I added a few of our own observations and changes.Ext_4So far the dimensions, assumptions and direction from the archaeological record seems to be paying off.  We have added randomness to the objects that are typically repeated.  Each pole is a different diameter, taper length and even texture map.Ext_5Where possible we have twisted the poles slightly to mimic natural growth and have added elements such as branch knuckles, rough cuts and extra dirty textures at the base of the poles where they would meet dirt, in the middle where constant hands would rub up against them and up top where the creosote would build up.Ext_3In the image above, the spacing for the smoke holes were large enough to allow for possible movement.  I envision that when a fire hearth below moved, the longhouse architect would get up on the roof and shift roofing shingles to so that rain and melting snow wouldn’t interfere with the fire itself.  The wide gap between the two ends of the roof terminating gabled walls would allow for an easy modification of the smoke holes.Ext_2

opening-the-bark-profile

We also went with the concept that the inner wall of the longhouse entrance (not the rounded vestibules) were actually covered in the same cedar shingles or wall sheets that were used in the bunks.  This made a lot of sense as it would have kept the heat within the main section of the longhouse and would allow for a double door during the winter.  However with the image below, I’m going to opt for a longer cedar strip, similar to what longhouse builders might have done when harvesting the cedar bark for boats, containers and other household items (see image beside).

 

Ext_1

So we are now ready to mount the shingles and add the rounded vestibules.  Next week we will have the first real rendered sequences and I’ll go more into depth on the technique Craig came up with by doing virtual reality site inspections with the Ocular Rift headset.

Lastly I wanted to touch upon something Jennifer Birch and Ron Williamson suggested recently in their book; The Mantle Site: An Archaeological History of an Ancestral Wendat Community.  The Mantle Site was a massive 99+ longhouse city ringed by an impressive palisaded area.  There is an indication that refuse trenching occurred outside the palisaded walls which would indicate that some basic form of community organization occurred.  Obviously my thoughts were whether this particular community had a permanent group of individuals who were responsible for longhouse design and construction or conversely, if every community of members within a longhouse were solely responsible for their own construction, repairs and possible fire-fighting needs?

 

 

Tuza’s, Mac Classic’s, Archaeology and Mentors

This is a true story.  About 24 years ago I was a fresh faced and rather wayward youth trying to figure out how to survive in University.  I had been attending UWO for a combined Honours in Anthropology and Visual Arts with a specialization in Archaeology.  One of my classes was with the extremely popular Dr. Michael Spence, who I credit today along with Dr. Corrine Mandel (Renaissance Art History) for kicking my ass into high gear.

Mike’s class was in Mesoamerican Archaeology.  He’d regale us with stories about his adventures in Central America and one particular story caught my attention.  As is the practice, Mike would cut the walls and floor of his excavation squares every night before he left the site.  He’d make sure that it was as clean as possible and then trundle off for the nightly activities.  In the morning he’d come back and there would be holes in the sides of the walls, up through the middle of the floor and generally a mess.  The little culprit, or several, was a Zygotes trichopus or more commonly known in Mexico as a Tuza.  Tuza’s are a Mexican pocket gopher and their nightly activities were the bane of Mike Spence’s nightly ritual.

If I remember correctly, Mike was looking for a burial of some sort and one morning, after a another night of Tuza excavation hole destruction, he found perched on top a human talus.  The Tuza found and excavated what Mike couldn’t.  His story inspired me to write my final undergraduate student paper on Faunalturbation; soil displacement due to animal interaction.  I can’t remember the mark he gave me, but I know he was amused.

Mac_ClassicIIThis was back in 1991 and my future wife and I had pooled our student loan money to buy an Apple Classic II and an Apple printer.  Apple had a word processing software application and a very rudimentary pixel based drawing application which I put both to good use.  The computer replaced an electric typewriter, which to my dismay was probably the worst piece of technology for someone like me to use.  Let’s just say that this computer unleashed the ability to revise, edit and format in a way the typewriter couldn’t.

For the paper I drew my first computer image.  I laugh at it now but I can remember the frustration I had trying to do fine detail in that clunky squarish mouse.  The image below looks childish and amateurish now, but I do remember getting some kudos for applying it to some form of archaeological illustration.

Tuza_Excavation

 

As was student life, I worked manual labour in the summer in order to save money for the following school year.  I had been working for a industrial laundry delivery service and one of my stops in North York Toronto was a greasy spoon beside the little offices of the Ontario Archaeological Society.  I had totally by chance found the OAS and took a chance one day and walked up to the second floor offices to check the place out.  ca19e33848e8aabaLuckily Charles “Charlie” Garrad, who was president at the time was there and we hit it off immediately.  During my weekly stops, I’d take the clock off the meter and spend twenty or thirty minutes every week talking with Charlie about archaeology, his passion (Petun) and how a young hopeful archaeologist can make it in the profession.

I can’t remember how it came about, but Charlie recommended that I could publish my Tuza paper in Arch Notes, which was/is the OAS’s community quasi-peer reviewed (Charlie at the time) publication. It was probably the nicest thing anybody in the industry had done for me and I was grateful to Charlie for it. Thus in August of 1992, I published my first paper (that you can download here); Digging without a Degree: Understanding the Nature of the Silent Mexican Archaeologist: Zygotes trichopus.

To my knowledge nobody has ever referenced it, but as an undergraduate student piece in 1991, I was darn proud of it.  Later, I used that research to good use when we encountered the North American version in a site, but I think faunalturbation is an interesting topic that deserves a little more attention!

Longhouse 3.3

Craig and I had hoped to give you a fully framed longhouse last week, but late into last Thursday night we had a massive panic attack.  We had been spending the good part of two weeks debating, researching, consulting and re-researching possible roofing methodologies that would have been used when Iroquoian builders were constructing their houses.  Yes, this seems to be also the main divergent of opinions as well between our key archaeological theorists; J.V. Wright, Mima Kapches and Dean Snow.  As you may remember, Wright suggested that the longhouse building was separated into two structures; 80% supporting exterior walls and 20% separate rafters and roof.  Kapches suggested that single continuous wall posts were bent over the superstructure frame with the ends terminating at the centre of the longhouse.  Snow suggested that 60% of the longhouse was supporting wall and 40% a more arbour like but fully attached roofing system.

Snow_framingWe have been attempting a hybrid system between Snow’s interpretation and Kapche’s version.  Essentially a longhouse that has a 60/40 proportional split between wall and roof (Snow) and a continuous wall post that begins bending at about 60% of the height.  What nobody has really not talked about is how the smoke holes where constructed or even if they were above the fire hearths inside!  Thus our ability to understand how smoke holes were constructed or even if they were purposefully built into the roof during the construction process has been hindered by a lack of oral, historical or archaeological evidence.

One of the first problems is that the archaeological record clearly indicates that fire or cooking hearths can be found throughout the inside floorplan of a longhouse.  Generally as Dodd indicated in her 1984 research, they tend to be grouped along the centre/middle of the longhouse (see image below). Dodd_1982_Idealized Longhouse Floor Plan

However, Varley and Cannon’s 1994 research on hearth spacing also indicates that hearths did move and there could have been both a cooking hearth and a heating hearth in close proximity to each other. Further, there is no indication that the number of hearth’s actually represented the number of family units within the longhouse (normal convention is that it is one hearth shared between two family units on either side of the longhouse bunking system).  The excavation map below of the Lawson Site, which is informing our research, shows two fire hearths in House #5 somewhat inline along the centre of the house.  However House #6 has one larger fire hearth one one end of the house and three smaller ones group on another.  I want to urge caution as well. Just because they didn’t find evidence of additional fire hearths, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t any (they could have been scrapped away during the excavation or they could have been removed by the original occupants).  It does help to visualize the problem of where to put the smoke holes if we were to reconstruct directly from the archaeological data.Lawson SiteIn Ron Williamson, David Smith, Rodolphe Fecteau and Robert Pearce’s 1979 Ontario Archaeological Symposium paper entitled The Longhouse Experiment: An Experience In Iroquoian Archaeology, the four archaeologists spent 30hrs in a reconstructed longhouse at Ska-Nah-Dot in the middle of a January snowstorm.  In -15C weather, the experimental archaeologists stayed in a 21.3m long, 6m wide and 4.5m high, wood framed and elm bark shingled longhouse.  The house had four smoke vents along the centre of the roofline that were .4m’s in diameter.  The smoke holes had hinged covers that could be opened with a pole from inside (Williamson et al., 1979).   The interesting part was there were 5 fire/cooking hearths on the ground, measuring about .6m’s in diameter, running down the middle of the longhouse.  We will return to this experiment over the next few weeks when we start recreating 3D smoke within the virtual environment, but for now, this description is all we have on the dimensions or physical make up of a smoke hole would be.

Further, in discussions with Neal Ferris, there is the question of weather the smoke hole would even indicate where the actual fire hearth would be below.  Convention suggests that the smoke hole in the roof would be directly above, however Ferris has raised the point of rain or melting snow providing a constant dripping on the fire hearth below.  If this was to happen, the fires would go out, but not before substantial smoke could accumulate.  A cover, as briefly described above, would not be totally effective in keeping dripping water out, so my assumption would be that the smoke holes would be offset from the fire hearths below.

Lastly, Williamson et al’s description indicates a “diameter” of .4m’s.  Longhouse construction is clearly linear and with limited fine cutting tools, I can’t see Iroquoian builders up on the top of a 7m high structure trying to cut a circular hole in the roof.  I’m going to take an educated guess that the “smoke holes” were rectangular or squarish and that the builders would use a similar shaped piece of bark shingling to act as a cover.

Hence, Craig and I started reconstructing the roof line to be much flatter, allowing for square or rectangular smoke holes to be built into the the roof and rafter system.  We drew some inspiration from the modern architectural drawings Ron Williamson provided in Longhouse 2.5 which provided a plausible method of smoke hole construction.  The image below includes a second horizontal set of beams down the middle of the roof supports to act as a connection point for framing and strapping of smaller gauge poles.

LH_0910

You’ll notice we have also included the interior door frame construction.  Again, from historical accounts there are indications that the flat inner doorway was constructed with the same lightweight cedar shingling that was mentioned in Snow’s account of bunk compartment walls.  After some discussion with Craig on how they would hang the cedar strips, we concluded that a door frame had to be constructed to act as a brace.  In the shot about Craig extended a horizontal pole at the bottom, but the door posts are assumed to have been dug similar to the other posts in the house.  The archaeological record shows no trenching or vertical lines as soil stains on either end of most longhouses, so I told Craig to remove the poles touching the ground and just extend the support poles on the first set of benches.

LH_0910c

In the downward shot above, it’s clear we would need smaller more lightweight supports to frame the smoke holes.  We decided to use the same diameter poles that are being used for the exterior wall strapping (around 3cm’s) to help frame up the roof supports.

LH_0910d

In the shot above, we start laying out the poles for the smoke hole framing and to act as supports for the top roof shingles when we start adding them to the structure.

LH_0910b

It’s at this point when panic sets in.  We did a frontal render of the longhouse and it seems somehow it has grown squatter and wider.  In particular I was having issues with the exterior wall posts and the fact they just looked too elongated.  Going back to previous renderings reveal that yes, the longhouse has been getting wider in width and shorted in height. Width_Height_0910As we know from oral and historical sources, longhouse height was the same measurement as longhouse width.  Currently we are using Dodd’s research which suggests the average width for a Northern Iroquoian longhouse was 7m’s, thus the height would be 7m’s.  Craig did a simple measurement rendering and clearly our assumptions proved correct!  Somehow during the modelling process we had changed the dimensions without knowing.

NEW_Width_Height_Ground2_0910Again, madly pouring through our data from Dodd, Wright, Snow and Kapches, we settled on resetting the longhouse so the width equals the height.  Further we knew that the bunks were exactly 2m’s (or just below) in width on either side of the longhouse and that according to Dodd the centre width between the two bunking systems were typically 3m’s wide, which gave us 7m’s in total width (2m + 3m + 2m) and thus an acceptable range.  Height again is purely speculative, but we’ve wanted to maintain the dimensions as mentioned in the oral and historical accounts.NEW_Width_Height_Ground3_0910A quick render proved the changes visually made sense width wise, however the height looked just too high.  The door posts also looked way too thick, so we scaled down the diameter to be more inline with a slightly thicker version of the wall posts (see below).  I also asked if we could lower the height by .5m’s to 6.4m in height instead of 6.9m’s (same as width).

FINAL_scale_LH_0910The Image above shows all of our revisions in place.  Stylistically (artistically) we lowered the height just slightly, changed the diameters of the door posts (which we are assuming was an opening of about 3ft x 6ft or shorter) and setup the roofing system to accommodate smoke holed along the centre line of the roof. At this point we have 8 family compartments, which based on normal convention should have one fire hearth for each pair.  So a minimal total of 4 fire hearths and subsequent smoke holes.  When refining the smoke holes next, they will be off-set from being directly under the centre point of where we think they would have normally put the fire hearths.

Now that we fixed one problem, we wanted to do a rough check to see if length was going to be within Dodd’s numbers.  Each bunk is 4m’s in length and we have 4 along the length of the longhouse, so a total of 16m’s.  We will be adding the vestibules (rounded half cigar shaped ends) to either end, which according to Dodd was another 4m’s in length, so a total 24m’s long (4m + 16m + 4m).

This round of changes was really an eye opener in terms of keeping track of dimensions within the 3D space.  We were lucky to have discovered the dimension differences before getting further along the modelling process as it would have been more difficult to fix later.  It made me think of the decisions the original longhouse builders would make and how they might fix or repair their structures during the building process and afterwards. Further, I’m being influenced by my artistic training I’m concerned that my visual perception might distort the archaeological data, so this is something that will need to be follow closely as we start creating the atmosphere and interactive pieces.

Disaster averted but a very beneficial process!

 

 

 

My first draft PhD Proposal

**Update the final approved PhD Proposal can be viewed here**

 

First Draft:

VIRTUAL ARCHAEOLOGY, VIRTUAL LONGHOUSES AND “ENVISIONING THE UNSEEN” WITHIN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD

ABSTRACT

In reimagining a 15th century Northern Iroquoian Longhouse within a virtual 3D environment we attempt to address issues of agency, authenticity, authority and most importantly, transparency within virtual heritage reconstructions. Virtual Archaeology and our ability to harness the technology in an applied, innovative and experiential way has allowed scholars, Descendants and the public to “envision the unseen” within the archaeological record. As such, archaeological virtual reconstruction through virtual reality has become a powerful tool in the interpretation of archaeological landscapes and artifacts as a means of knowledge building and meaning making. Thus, Virtual Archaeology is moving 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.

INTRODUCTION

In the 1960’s, Ivan Sutherland envisioned a time in the near future in which people would be able to physically enter into an alternative, “digital” world. With the ability to not only see the environment around them, but also the ability to touch, smell, hear and be affected by the environment itself; a unique digital phenomenological experience where the viewer becomes participant and builds on his or her own personal narrative in a non-linear almost life-like virtual experience (see Sutherland 1965).

Within the study and practice of archaeology, we have seen amazing leaps and bounds over the last 20 years in the use of digital technology to inform and scaffold the theories and methods of archaeological research. My proposal is to harness those technologies, theories and methodologies to approach virtual archaeology from a phenomenological perspective in order to empower stakeholders, may they be scholar, Descendent or public within archaeology proper. Dawson, Levy and Lyons called this phenomenological experience presence; “the emotional connectedness of being transported to another time and place” (see Dawson et al. 2011). Although their study group were descendent participants, can this same experience be true for non-descendants as well? Can archaeologist use this technology and methodology in a phenomenological way to envision what isn’t seen in the archaeological record to better inform current and future research (see Watts 2009)?

To situate this research, I propose to virtually reimagine a prototypical Northern Iroquoian longhouse within an interactive virtual 3D environment. Using existing archaeological data gleaned from excavations of Iroquoian longhouses, oral and historical accounts as well as theoretical opinions on longhouse construction methodologies; I will reimagine a 3D Iroquoian Longhouse within a virtual environment. By referencing the known archaeological data, I will attempt to build the longhouse step by step, which will hopefully inform and suggest what challenges and ingenuities Iroquoian builders faced themselves. Once built, I will place this reconstructed model within a virtual delivery platform so that stakeholders, namely heritage professionals, may experience a sense of “presence” within the virtual world. This will be accomplished with the addition of simulated atmospherics such as natural and artificial (fire hearth) light, particle systems that simulate dust, pollen and smoke as well as the addition of natural sounds that would accompany living within these massive architectural marvels. In following The London Charter, a template for working with heritage assets within the virtual environment, I hope to provide a weekly blog that will discuss the insights, challenges and discoveries as I build this virtual longhouse environment. Called “paradate”, this additional information of the process and decisions being made during the 3D assets building and implementation, will allow scholarly engagement and transparency as we continue along the path of virtual simulation.

Lastly, I intend to seek professional opinions from the archaeological community themselves, not only during the building stage through blogs, Twitter or personal outreach, but by allowing heritage professionals to experience the virtual environment first hand. These initial sessions and the reactions and opinions generated will lay the groundwork for future public and Descendent engagements as the project hopefully moves from the research to public deployment stage.

BACKGROUND and CONTEXT

I graduated with an Honours Bachelor in Visual Arts and Archaeology in 1993 and immediately went to work as a “Salvage Archaeologist” on a multi-stratified mitigation site that contained among other eras, a late Iroquoian level, over a 6 month period. During those long hours of labour intensive test pits, bad weather and accidently destroyed post hole stains, I envisioned and yearned for an alternative “computer aided archaeology” predictive methodology to determine longhouse pole placement and positioning. Something that would not only allow researchers to predict where the positions of poles would be but also allow stakeholders (researchers, descendants, the public) to enter in and interact with a 3D “virtual” recreation of a longhouse directly on site using the archaeological data as a starting point.

Paul Reilly had coined the term Virtual Archaeology in 1991 and the use of 3D visualization was starting to take hold in archaeological research and practice. Empowered with a vision to combine my archaeology and visual arts skills for 3D visualization, thus I applied to Sheridan College in 1994 for their Computer Graphics program and upon completion was accepted into their prestigious post-graduate Computer Animation program with the sole goal of learning the technology to enable “Virtual Archaeology of Longhouse Sites”. Unfortunately the practice and use of technology in archaeology was still in its infancy within Ontario and Canadian archaeology, so pressed with a career choice of multiple offers within the new and rapidly expanding 3D Animation and VFX industry or struggling to be heard within archaeology, I chose the latter which propelled me on a twenty year journey as a film and television 3D animation and VFX industry expert.

Virtual Archaeology has now become a highly debated topic that is now contested not only by the stakeholders it tries to serve, but the practitioners of the theories and methodologies who strive to improve academic rigor and the virtual experience for an ever sophisticated, participatory audience. As technology has increased, what was only a dream 20 years ago can now be made into reality. The process of creating virtual archeological landscapes, objects and environments has also become less of a “black art”, allowing for non-artists to engage in designing, developing and deploying more and more sophisticated heritage inspired virtual reconstructions.

The study of Northern Iroquoian longhouses is a mercurial archaeological endeavour. Fragments of these once grand physical manifestations of social, cultural and political agency within the Late Iroquoian phases of the Ontario complex (Birch & Williamson 2013) are little more than “ghosts” below the soil line within the archaeological landscape. Soil stains are all that remain of the supporting posts and exterior walls of these unique cultural buildings representing only a small glimpse into how these dwellings once functioned or even looked.

These soil stains and the cultural material associated in and around the boundaries of these transitory structures, as well as historical Eurocentric writings and drawings and the oral traditions of descendent cultural groups, are what now form our archaeological understandings of the lifecycle of a longhouse, and more importantly, the cultural significance these structures played within Iroquoian life (Woodworth 1998). However, the enigma is that our understanding arising from these data points is imaginatively speculative at best and thus the challenge is to not only visualize these lost cultural manifestations, but also to embody all of the senses that the archaeological landscape cannot preserve; the haptic, olfactory and auditory – in other words the phenomenological (see Watts 2009). The ability to experience the application of sight, sound, smell, and touch in context, helps to embody the overall phenomenological archaeological experience (Dawson et al. 2011) and in turn may provide further understanding to the archaeological record. These are some of the challenges that frame the current debate on what a longhouse is and how it shapes our understanding of the lifeway of the people who thrived within these architectural representations of Iroquoian culture.

PRIOR RESEARCH 

Longhouses occupy a special narrative amongst descendent Iroquoian societies and modern archeologists. An active and engaged oral tradition has given the longhouse a spiritual existence in which the North American modern day longhouse continues to be a powerful symbol of community for those descendent populations, representing an architectural lineage that exemplifies agency and a unique way of life (see Heidenreich 1972; Kapches 1994; Mohawk 1978; O’Gorman 2010; Watts 2009; Woodworth 1998).   At the base level, the longhouse represents community in both physical and metaphysical traditions, embodying the physical to convey societal, cultural and political worldviews (Hayden 1968; Heidenreich 1972; Mohawk 1978; O’Gorman 2010; Ramsden 2009; Varley & Cannon 1994). For Iroquoian culture, the longhouse was a symbol of how the community functioned and was politically structured within their larger world, forming the boundaries of their influence, and symbolic of the longhouse itself (see Allen & Williams-Shuker 1998; Heidenreich 1972; O’Gorman 2010; Mohawk 1978). Though limited physical remnants remain of these structures, they are subjectively alive in the contested colonial writings and descriptions of historical explorers, the oral traditions of cultural descendants and the visual imagination of modern writers and filmmakers (Boyden 2013; Heidenreich 1972; Thwates 1896-1901).

Although the archaeological record reveals several centuries of longhouse and village-like settlement patterns for the Late Woodland, the modern perception of what a longhouse hypothetically looked and felt like is really derived from the latter part of the Late Woodland (sometimes referred to as the Terminal Woodland; see Ferris and Spence 1995), where archaeological and historical data come together to provide a general “convention” for what a longhouse “should be” (Snow 1997; Williamson 2004; Wright 1995). Further, it is these idealized non-native interpretations that continue to reinforce not only the academic but also the public’s notion of what a longhouse was and is (Williamson 2004). It is from these qualitative and quantitative data points that we will explore what a longhouse is physically within the archaeological and historical record.

My understanding of the visualization of longhouses from the archaeological record arises principally from the work of four archaeologists; J.V. Wright, Mima Kapches, Christine Dodd and Dean Snow. Due to the lack of any real physical evidence, models of longhouse use, style, agency, and construction have been hotly contested for decades (see Kapches 1994; Snow 1997; Williamson 2004; Wright 1995). The work of these archaeologists, in combination with continued observations and challenges from other exemplary researchers, form a base of understanding that helps to frame how longhouses were constructed. Using Dodd’s extensive quantitative research gleaned from an exhaustive review of longhouse data derived from field excavations (1984) and based on the qualitative and quantitative observations of Wright (1971), Kapches (1994) and Snow (1997) among others, a basic template for the construction of longhouses emerges. It is this template we seek to replicate virtually.

With rapid advancements in technology, there now exists a cornucopia of progressively successful attempts to engage the archaeological record within virtual reality or virtual archaeology. As with most applications of theory in reality, there too is a split between the qualitative and the quantitative nature of the technology and how it is implemented. Reilly, Barceló, Frischer and others see the digital tools, the process and the outcomes as part and parcel of the quantitative, scientific nature of archaeological research; data that should be represented by and through scientific means. Dawson, Levy, Lyons and Forte, see virtual archaeology as a phenomenological emotional experience in which the participant isn’t a passive viewer, but an equal partner in the exploration of the multivocal archaeological landscape. Where the data, material culture and the visual (re)imagination of the archaeological environment are engaged through the users eyes.

The transformative nature of technology and in particular our ability to manipulate digital data freely, whether visual or not, has given form to a multivocal approach to the interpretation of the archaeological record (Forte 2011, 2014a, 2014b). Following Hodder, Forte sees multivocal engagement within virtual archaeology as the ability to allow for multiple voices to engage and contribute to the overall interpretation of the virtual archaeological environment (2008; 2011, 2014a, 2014b). This authentic multivocal experience can lead to new research questions and hypotheses, disrupting the notion of the archaeologist as the interpreter of the “truth” (Earl 2013; Forte 2014b). As (digital) archaeologists, we are no longer the singular authoritative voice, but providers of material and assets in which stakeholders and the public themselves can construct and reimagine their own cultural presence within virtual space (see Earl 2013 & Perry 2014; Dasgupta 2006; Forte 2011 & 2014b).

Virtual reality by definition is an interpretation of self within a different space, time or plane (see Sutherland 1965). It is narrative generating and thus both the technology and the process of creating virtual reality have borrowed heavily from the entertainment industry (see Frankland and Earl 2011 and Denard 2012). In doing so, by taking a creative approach to the interpretation of the archaeological data, the agency of that data is now layered upon and seen through the creators lens; what “artist’s impression” intend the virtual space to convey (see Earl 2013; Frankland and Earl 2011; Frischer et al. 2000; Moser and Smiles 2008; Perry 2015).

The digital reproduction of objects, landscapes and narratives have agency both in the real and virtual worlds and as such must be treated with equal consideration and respect (Earl 2013; Forte 2014a; Huggett 2012a, 2015; Pauketat and Alt 2005; Richardson 2013; Robb 2010). Virtual archaeology is moving 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.

Technology is at the point where we can provide an almost hyper-real experience to the participant viewer, may they be scholar, descendant or the public (Frankland and Earl 2011; Forte 2014a; Gabellone et al. 2013; Giddings 2015; Morgan 2009; Moser and Smiles 2008). Further, that same technology allows the particpant to interpret and modify the objects and material being displayed/provided, giving them the ability to reorder, reinterpret or remix at will (Fisher and Twiss-Garrity 2007; Frankland and Earl 2011). These are the machinations that now loom over virtual archaeology.

The London Charter has provided practitioners with a set of guidelines which attempt an assurance of authenticity and authority over Digital (virtual) archaeology (Denard 2012; Gabellone et al. 2013). Dawson, Levy and Lyons provide one example of how participants can obtain presence within a virtual archaeological landscape, as well as demonstrating that the foundations of The London Charter can be implemented effectively to maintain rigorous archaeological authority over the virtual material being provided. Our challenge is providing archaeological data to non-archaeologists in ways that are recognizable as visualizations and virtual experiences.

RESEARCH QUESTION(S) 

# 1

What is a longhouse? What data and assumptions within archaeological, historical, and oral traditions go into informing our understanding of what an ancestral northern Iroquoian “longhouse” was and is? What are the challenges and opportunities these divergent lines of evidence present to our efforts to build, engage, and research this form of habitation within virtual contexts?

#2

How has virtual reality been used in archaeology and heritage studies and what might be achievable in the future considering current and upcoming technological advances. How can virtual reconstructions facilitate transformative and innovative research in archaeology?

#3

Ancient, immersive archaeological landscapes and settings can provide audiences with a real sense of being in a place and space; but these are only approximations based on interpretation, supposition, and artistic license. How are issues of authenticity addressed, or not, when developing virtual spaces, and what are some of the main issues when immersive representations are presented as, or assumed to be, authentic? Should intended and unintended audiences only experience virtual representations of the past passively, or should they be able to engage with and challenge the context they explore against what “feels” right to them, whether they are scholar, Descendant or public?

GOALS

We have seen with Dawson, Levy and Lyons that an embodied experience for descendent stakeholders is not only empowering to the participant but beneficial to the archaeologist in unlocking unintended knowledge that further enriches the archaeological record (2011). That digital reproduction of objects, landscapes and narratives do have agency both in the real and virtual worlds and as such must be treated with equal consideration and respect (Earl 2013; Forte 2014b; Huggett 2012a, 2015; Pauketat and Alt 2005; Richardson 2013; Robb 2010). As such virtual archaeology is moving 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.

By using the archaeological record as it pertains to the physicality of longhouse construction and use, we are able to envision the unseen. Many cultural, economic, societal and environmental factors help to inform this inquiry, however my desire and goal is to develop both a theoretical and virtual model of the fundamental features of a longhouse that is the manifestation of the dynamic archeological landscape, oral and written histories as well as the creative imagination of the artists and technicians who will ultimately be tasked with digitally reimagining these elusive, iconic and culturally significant architectural symbols of the Northern Iroquoian existence (Watts 2009; Woodworth 1998).

Lastly, archaeological virtual reconstruction through virtual reality has become a powerful tool in the interpretation of archaeological landscapes and artifacts as a means of knowledge building and meaning making (see Dallas 2009, Earl 2013, Forte 2014a & 2014b, Huggett 2013 & Perry 2014). It has become a “mediating tool” allowing researchers to experiment with the data and to tease out the tensions that arise from a multivocal environment (see Dallas 2009 & Earl 2013). These alternate visions help to “stimulate interpretation” creating multi-channeled narratives which spur on additional and unforeseen research questions (Earl 2013). As such, what is apparent is that the practice/study/craft has transcended beyond the internal realm of archaeological study to be fully accepted externally as representative of archaeological studies without it really establishing itself as an accepted cannon of archaeological research (see Earl 2013 & Perry 2014).

METHODS

A strong theoretical foundation of my research will reflect elements such as agency, authority, authenticity and transparency as it is relates to virtual archaeology and archaeology in general. Using reflexivity and critical testing, I hope to understand and demonstrate the application of phenomenology, virtual reality and virtual archaeology to facilitate transformative and innovative research within Iroquoian archaeology, providing a template for future use and deployment within other fields of archaeological study.

My research will be informed by and include theoretical elements from Dawson, Levy and Lyons (phenomenology and presence), Reilly, Barceló, Frischer, Forte, Dallas, Huggett, Gillings (virtual archaeology) and Watts, Ferris, Robb, Frankland, Earl, Perry, Gosden, Denard (agency, authenticity, authority and transparency) among others.

My project will incorporate existing academic literature, research and data as it pertains to the knowledge in the construction methodologies and visualizations of Northern Iroquoian Longhouses primarily influenced by Dodd, Kapches, Wright, Snow and Williamson among others in the field.

I will test my hypothesis by engaging with the archaeological and heritage community to participate and engage with the project in a contextual manner, so as to measure their level of interest in using these techniques in their own areas of specialization and interest. To further determine if these methodologies meet the academic rigor while also providing an informed, innovative and experiential application of archaeological research and community engagement.

TIMELINE AND FUNDING

Year 1: Literature review and research on Northern Iroquoian Longhouse use and construction, the previous and current uses of Virtual Archaeology within archaeological discord and the theoretical and methodological concerns of the representation of heritage material and landscapes within virtual environments.

Year 2: Review and research the application of virtual reality production and virtual reality platforms suited to a robust, interactive and phenomenological multivocal virtual archaeological experience. This will also include gap-filling research on areas of concentration in Year 1 and the development of a “paradata” methodology to allow for the transparent engagement with the research process.

Year 3: The recruitment of computer animation knowledge experts, the development, creation and application of 3D assets, the decision and implementation of a virtual reality delivery platform and consolidation and the analysis of the final virtual reality experience by members of the archaeological community.

As I am a part-time PhD student, I am ineligible for research funding. However, as the full-time administrative Director of a graduate program in Digital Media at the Ryerson University, I have access to the technological hardware and software resources needed in the design, development and deployment of a virtual reality project. Further, this project is being generously funded by the Dr. Neal Ferris from the Museum of Ontario Archaeology/Sustainable Archaeology and Dr. Ron Williamson from Archaeological Services Inc. to allow for the hiring of artistic and technical specialists.

CONCLUSION / IMPLICATIONS, IMPACT AND DISSEMINATION

I am proposing to design, develop and implement a method for the visualization of archaeological data and speculative academic insight within virtual archaeological environments. That this method is grounded in the theories that have formed around the study of virtual archaeology, specifically: agency, authenticity, authority and transparency. In doing so, by using an area of personal interest, I hope to build upon the continued work of Dodd, Wright, Kapches and Snow with regards to Northern Iroquoian longhouse construction and use.

The potential implications of this project could entail the lack of sufficient archaeological, oral and historical data to effectively visualize a Northern Iroquoian longhouse. As such, academic and artistic license as well as time and cost of production will be required to enable only one potential visual interpretation. That the intended technology cannot delivery the virtual effect intended or that the artistic or technical talent required is either unavailable or beyond the scope of my personal skills.

The impact of this study could be substantial. Apart from the pioneering phenomenological work done by Dawson, Levy and Lyons, current research has indicated that no other project is attempting to phenomenologically recreate a 3D virtual Iroquoian Longhouse to the level and sophistication usually reserved for high-end gaming or film production. Further, following the recent development of The London Charter, this project will endeavor to develop a body of transparent knowledge, which is community based and encourages debate and opinion throughout the visualization process. Lastly this project will impact and contribute to the ongoing research and debate on virtual archaeology, it’s application, use and substantial contribution to the study and discipline of archaeology.

This project will be disseminated in multiple forms. The 3D virtual environment and all assets will be made available as an open source tool for the continued use by scholars, Descendants and the public. The accompanying blog and Twitter feeds will provide an ongoing deployment of “paradata” to support the development of continued debate and development of the virtual environment. A conference paper will be proposed and it is my intention to publish on the findings of this work.

PRELIMINARY BIBLIOGRPAHY

 

Barceló, Juan
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Barker, Alex W.
2010 Exhibiting Archaeology: Archaeology and Museums. Annual Review of Anthropology.

Beacham, Richard
2006 Oh, to make boards to speak! There is a task! Towards a poetics of paradata. In: Greengrass M and Hughes L (eds) The Virtual Representation of the Past. Farnham: Ashgate: 171–178.

Beale, G, and P Reilly
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Beauchamp, William Martin
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Birch, Jennifer, and Ronald F Williamson
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Brown, D., and G. Nicholas
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2001 Storage Behavior in the Northeast: a Review of the Evidence. North American Archaeologist 22(3): 179–199.

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1994 The impact of late woodland land use on the forest landscape of southern Ontario. The Great Lakes Geographer 1(1): 21–29.

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2009 An Argument for Archaeological Reconstruction in Virtual Reality. Near Eastern archaeology 72(1): 28–41.

Carrozzino, Marcello, and Massimo Bergamasco
2010 Beyond virtual museums: Experiencing immersive virtual reality in real museums. Journal of Cultural Heritage 11(4): 452–458.

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2009 Experiential archaeology: Is virtual time travel possible? Journal of Cultural Heritage 10(4): 458–470.

Chadwick, Edward Marion
1897 The People of the Longhouse. ICIBinding Corporation.

Chalmers, Alan, and Eva Zányi
2010 Multi-Sensory Virtual Environments for Investigating the Past. Virtual Archaeology Review 1: 13–16.

Chapdelaine, Claude
1993 The Sedentarization of the Prehistoric Iroquoians: A Slow or Rapid Transformation? Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 12(2): 173–209.

Charest, Michelle
2009 Thinking Through Living: Experience and the Production of Archaeological Knowledge. Archaeologies 5(3): 416–445.

Cooper, David
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Longhouse 3.2.5

A big shout out to @EAAGlasgow (EAA Glasgow 2015).  Would have loved to participated in this year’s timely sessions, but the Ryerson MDM grad students are starting early this week/year!  I also want to congratulate my research partner Craig Barr who just recently launched his Lynda.com course entitled Mudbox Essentials Training. Mudbox is an extremely powerful 3D sculpting and painting software application, which we’ve also used in this project as well.

It has been a week of minor refinements and some time to review roofing structures for our longhouse.  One of the key elements was to incorporate Bill Kennedy’s comments and observations in Longhouse 3.2.  Bill has been building physical heritage reconstructions for years and had indicated that to keep the internal structure from bowing out over time, a lower mid-section horizontal support pole attached to either side of the bunking system would help keep the two sides from buckling out.LH_structure_0825aUnlike the previous image below from Longhouse 3.2, with the addition of the mid-section horizontal cross-brace, the image of the Longhouse looked like it became very squat.  Craig and I actually went through the settings in Maya to make sure the render from the camera wasn’t being pinched in any way.  Artistically it clearly looks odd, however technically nothing has changed in height, width or length.

This “paradata” process of writing about the decisions made while producing a heritage object in virtual archaeology is a pillar of The London Charter discussed in Longhouse 3.1.5. It ensures transparency in the creation process,as the model assets are being built and how those assets are then applied in virtual space for public consumption.  In my particular case, I’m using my artistic side of the brain to question if the visualization is correct, which should prompt an investigation on whether there is archaeological or practical knowledge data to back up my concerns.  LongHouse_Structure_Aug10bWe concluded however that it was an optical illusion due to the change in wall post styles and the horizontal cross brace seemed lower to the ground level then what we would expect.  For the next iteration it was decided to increase the height of the cross brace to roughly 60% of the total height of the longhouse.  As discussed previously, we have been mixing building methodologies from Wright, Kapches and Snow along with insights from our commenters.  The 60% height was suggested by Snow (see Longhouse 1.5) originally with the remaining 40% being a separate roofing structure completely independent from the wall posts.  Wright suggested a similar approach but with a much taller wall system of almost 80% wall and 20% independent roof.  Our hybrid model is going to incorporate Snow’s 60% wall height, then a continuous Kapches wall post and roofing methodology.  The assumption being that native builders would have continuously tied down the exterior wall post framing to the interior support poles.  Having the mid-section interior cross-beams and supports higher to about 60% of longhouse height, would also allow the exterior wall poles to be bent more naturally and one would assume it would then be more stable and secure?LH_structure_0825bWe’re also using Ron Williamson’s Fort Erie image below for inspiration with regards to exterior poles and what they would look like at the top of the roofing system.  I’m going to assume that Iroquoian builders tied down the ends as opposed to cutting them.  The image below has a separate flat roof supported by the interior support structure and scaffolded by the exterior wall system.  This makes a lot of sense as the smoke holes were assumed to be square or rectangular in shape, which would be impossible to make if the ends of the wall posts met in the centre of the roof and were tied down.  Ultimately we have no clue whatsoever how the roof was made, so we’ve decided to make a flat roof supported by the interior rafter system then round off the roof at the top with the 1x2m shingles that will form the outer shell of the house.

Longhouse Construction 2

The image below is a revision on the notes discussed above.  In it we increased the height of the cross-beams and then also changed the exterior curve of the wall posts.  I’m envisioning two major tie down points for the exterior wall at the mid-section and top of the rafters.  With all of the potential tension on the mid and top sections of the wall posts, I’m also wondering if they tied down the bottom of the wall posts to the interior bunking system at the base?  Generally the poles would have been placed into the ground at about 1 to 1.5 feet.  Sometimes individual holes were dug, but there is also archaeological evidence that slip trenches were dug as well and then dirt filled in afterwards.  In the previous rendered image above, Craig randomized the placement of the posts, similar to how we find them in the archaeological record which suggests a roughly straight line, but not precisely straight.  Lastly, following Wright’s observations on pole height vs taper, we applied a greater taper and random length to the poles.

Post_Lifts1

As with the normal model building process in 3D, we tend to forget or leave important corrections out while revision notes come through. In Longhouse 3.2 I noticed a lot of texture and modelling issues that were just simply items to be cleaned up.  Floating support beams, some bunks without supports and areas with no rope strapping.

By chance we got our Ocular Rift Dev Kit 2 this week.  Craig quickly imported the 3D layout from Longhouse 3.2 in Unity 5 and then donned the OR to do a virtual “site inspection”.  By walking around the structure in 3D, he was able to quickly pinpoint all of the areas that needed to be remodelled or cleaned up.  It was definitely a unique experience to check for issues.

One of the elements you may not have noticed in the image above is the creosote texture mapping on the upper rafters/support beams. Unfortunately a lot of this detail will get lost once the longhouse is enclosed and the lighting added, but we felt it was a necessary detail to add in terms of discussion points later in the process.Post_Lifts2Lastly Craig hand adjusted every rope lashing point in the longhouse.  Typically in 3D animation, we make one model of an element and then copy and paste that 3D model if it’s going to be repeated.  In this case, Craig remodelled every rope element as even the pole and post diameters were randomized to present a less uniform 3D look.

Our next iteration will have the exterior shingles in place and the cedar flat faced wall that was used to separate the rounded storage/entrance vestibule with the house.  As always, any comments, questions or insights are greatly welcomed.

 

Longhouse 3.2

It’s been another busy week as we start to refine the longhouse superstructure.  The iconic “half-cigar” shape is starting to take form, but keep in mind that this visualization is just one of many interpretations that have been brought forward over the years and only one of many physical and digital reconstructions to be attempted.  I also wanted to touch upon our method of visual research when preparing for the project.  Unlike traditional film & television production research, where images and written descriptions are abundantly gathered in order to recreate the great Colosseum of Rome for the Gladiator movie or the Viking and Medieval Villages of Europe for the Vikings TV series, I have avoided revisiting the existing physical longhouse constructions at Ska-nah-doht, Lawson, Crawford Lake or Saint Marie Among the Hurons, so as not to be influenced by modern building interpretations of longhouse architecture.  Of course those images do seep in from pictures and illustrations gleaned from research papers and internet searches but our attempt was to experience the building process from a digital perspective, hopefully making some of the same mistakes and decisions that modern and ancient builders did.   As discussed previously, one of our ultimate goals is to develop a digital system that allows all stakeholders, from Descendent communities to Archaeologists to the general public to build their own longhouses based on their own perceptions, trade skill, oral or historical knowledge.  For instance I draw your attention to Bill Kennedy’s comments in Longhouse 3.1.5 where he speaks of years of physical reconstruction experience, which is invaluable to understanding how longhouses might have been traditionally constructed.  Alas however, our knowledge of anything above the soil line is purely speculative and hence we continue on this digital journey to visualize some of the current thoughts and opinions.  Lastly if I haven’t said this, although we are looking at the architecture of a longhouse, by no means are we qualified architects.  Snow load, wind resilience or even concerns of structural fire requirements are discussion points but not from a professional perspective and we fully accept that the study is incomplete from that perspective.

Speaking of learning from those who have already built a longhouse, Ron Williamson from ASI passed along this image taken of a longhouse construction using quasi-traditional means built over 20 years ago near Fort Erie.  The build was actually based on the modern architectural plans we discussed in Longhouse 2.5.Longhouse Construction 2Ron indicated it lasted 20 years in the harsh Fort Erie weather. This leads us into this weeks continued efforts to finalize the roofing system and superstructure supports.  One of the areas of concern from a digital perspective was how the top roof, which also houses the smoke holes, was built.  In the picture above and in the plans from Longhouse 2.5 there clearly is a flat surface.  Although I haven’t spoken in depth with Ron regarding the snow loads and the subsequent melting patterns of snow on a flat roof but with my own, sometimes water damaged experience with my own houses engineered flat roof, there would have surely been water issues.  My water issues were resolved by adding a slight slope to the roof line allowing the snow and water to naturally fall away.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10As you can see above, we’ve “finger jointed” the roofline but I think there will have to be a broader semi-flat space along the top to allow for the smoke holes.  LongHouse_Structure_Aug10b Visually the wall poles on the above frontal view seem to want or even need another support system to lash onto 2/3rd’s of the way up from the top of the bunking infrastructure or we might have to accept that the poles terminated just above the top supporting beams and then a second flatter roofing system was used similar to the one in Fort Erie picture above?  Additionally, we might add the widthwise support beams to connect both sides of the longhouse to add additional support.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10cMoving to the interior space itself, cedar boughs were added for bedding, our first attempt of having rolled up furs were also added and fire hearth wood was placed under the bunks.  You’ll notice the strapping is consistent now as well.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10eWe will be adding texture maps shortly for a hardened dirt floor with the addition of heating and cooking hearths down the middle of the structure.LongHouse_Structure_Aug10dThe exterior wall superstructure will require additional exterior lateral support poles so that the 1m x 2m bark shingles can be attached to the outside.  As well, we will need to add the rounded vestibules on either end which will include a double door systems (interior and exterior) discussed in the historical accounts.  It has been suggested a cedar bark wall, similar to the cubicles, was built on the flat end of the longhouse separating the vestibule and the main living accommodations.Jefferys_1942_LonghouseVillageSeen in the image above by Canadian Artist C.W. Jefferys, this 1942 illustration depicts the stereotypical image of an idyllic Iroquois Village.  You’ll notice in the image that the longhouses do not have the rounded vestibules (half-cigar) shape we generally equate Northern Iroquoian longhouses to have and is usually represented within the archaeological record (see Dodd 1984).  My guess is that Jefferys was borrowing from other iconic illustrations like the one below.pomeioc1 This image by Theodor de Bry in 1588 depicts the Village or Town of Pomeiooc in Virginia at the time of initial European contact.  It’s actually enhanced from an initial drawing by Thomas Harriot, also of that year.  Both visual interpretations show a flat front wall sheathed in bark.  Some have suggested this was a temporary measure to enclose the longhouse before the storage vestibules were built allowing the longhouse to be in immediate use while taking their time finishing the rest of the building.  Additionally, although I haven’t seen a historical image yet, many longhouses in the archaeological record can be seen expanding in length.  I would assume that a flat wall would help to make the space livable while they build onto the length?mantle_reconstructionThe image above was used for the new documentary called Curse of the Axe which chronicles the excavation of the massive Iroquoian City called the Mantle Site north of Toronto.  I love the image for the fact that is starts to show the exterior build of the storage vestibules in their rounded form.

For Longhouse 3.2.5, we will be looking at possibly starting to add bark siding and the cedar walls to start enclosing the longhouse structure.  Based on the successful porting of the 3D model assets into Unity at Siggraph last week, we should also be at a stage where we can enter the model in gaming mode, but  we will keep our fingers crossed!

 

Longhouse 3.1.5

CraigatSigIt’s been a busy couple of days for the project and Craig, who is still down at Siggraph2015 demonstrating at the Unity booth.  As you can see our project is getting a workout in the Unity 5 gaming engine!  Craig’s ported the Autodesk Maya 3D models at their current stage of development into Unity 5.  Even with the models in basic form Unity’s new lighting is the bomb! We’ve also been fessing about the polygon count on the models being built as we have been trying to keep them highly detailed from an archaeological research perspective, but it looks like Unity can handle it so far.

I asked Craig to also film a quick video of the Longhouse in Unity and although it’s a low quality cell phone recording, I’m really happy with the progress!

From a research perspective, it’s been a good study on the influences the process, technology and artistic craft has on the researcher when interpreting the archaeological record in virtual space.  Both Sara Perry and Grahame Earl, who I spoke about briefly in Longhouse 3.1, talk about the value of this new form of archaeological illustration as being transformative and going beyond just illustrating or visualizing archaeology.  The ever expanding methods and growing theories of Virtual Archaeology are helping to shape how we see archaeological material and in doing so is spawning questions researchers would have never considered.  There is also a tension that 3D animation and virtual reality is “less than” traditional archaeological study, but hopefully as we continue with this project, it is demonstrating an active and valid use of traditional method and theory.

As such, this project has been following the guidelines outlined in the The London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage, conceived in 2006 as a means to encourage intellectual transparency in the creation and use of technology within cultural heritage studies.  Essentially the Charter lays out the methods researchers should take to ensure that the digital material they create has followed academic rigour and if assumptions are made during the process (as we have clearly stated in earlier posts) that they are recorded and justified to ensure authenticity of the research itself and transparency so that the public, who are now served by experiencing these digital environments, understands that what they see is an interpretation and not absolute fact.

Lastly, even in the process of blogging, you the audience is experiencing the pains, decisions, failures and successes of the process to (re)imagine extant archaeological material.  Generally this reflection comes after the project has been completed, but the Charter has indicated that it is a worthwhile effort to engage the digital process as it happens.

 

Carrying on from Longhouse 3.1, we were exploring the relationship of the interior supporting structure and how the exterior wall posts would be bent and attached. Craig’s quick revisions helped to better understand how Iroquoian builders might have forced the wall posts to bend at certain points to create a continuous arbour roof and wall system. It seems plausible that poles that would run lengthwise and supported by the main bunking infrastructure would be the first attachment spot for exterior wall posts. LH_structureA second set of lengthwise poles another 4 to 5 feet higher and supported by the main interior posts would then act as part of the interior rafters and another connection point for the exterior wall posts.  The interesting bit is what they did at the termination point or where two sets of poles would meet in the middle?  We have no visual or written historical material to go by in determining how the very top of the roof was constructed, but it was clear through written history that longhouses had smoke holes at the very top of the roof to allow for smoke to dissipate.  Assuming that Iroquoian Longhouse construction was linear in fashion (i.e. the smoke holes weren’t rounded), the very top of the roof would have been rectangular in shape to allow for square’ish smoke holes.LH_structure_RevisionsIn a second set of revision notes, you can see that we’re now starting to play with the idea of a flattish roof and how the opposite wall poles might have terminated.  I used the concept of fingers from two hands interjoining, but even that raises questions about how smoke holes would then be inserted.  Would they cut the ends of the poles while on top of the longhouse, or pre-cut them before they were installed?  At a starting taper of 3cm’s at the base of the pole, I would assume that after 7.m’s in length, the end of the pole would be easy to break off with the bare hands?  Or did they use a saw of some sort (which I will need to check with the archaeological record)?

In addition to creating a flat roof, we also need to be cognizant of making sure our 3D objects reflect academic thinking.  One of the quick methods of modelling is just to use a simple proxy (a tube for instance) and just make it the length of the longhouse to represent a support pole.  However, as we know from previous discussions, White ash was likely used for support poles as they tended to be much stronger than other wood types, would grow almost entirely straight and with a uniform taper but usually no longer than 12ft (in usable footage).  Hence in a 24ft longhouse, there should be at least two 12ft poles laid out lengthwise, with a slight taper.  Again, there is no archaeological or historical data to support the existence of additional support beams that might have attached to bunk infrastructure to further support the lengthwise posts, but when the initial test image was rendered, it looked or more appropriately, it felt, as though more supports were needed.

A lot of the detail we are talking about will likely be lost visually when the atmospherics like lighting is added.  Longhouses had two major light sources; the doors on either end, which might have been fully or partially covered and the smoke holes above.  Any secondary sources of light would be coming from gaps in the exterior shingles or the fire hearths themselves, thus the detail we are agonizing over would likely be entirely in the dark once the house is imported into the Unity gaming engine.  Further, too much detail in the models slows down the real-time rendering of the objects in 3D space, so it is possible that the more realistic modelling, rounded ends, nice textures, will become more angular as we reduce the polygon surface to increase speed.  All considerations to examine as we continue to build.

Next in Longhouse 3.2 we will review the changes and start to see the final infrastructure that will support the exterior walls and roofing system.

Addendum: August 17, 2015.

As an addition and in response to Bill Kennedy’s thoughtful observations, I’ve updated this blog with an image which I hope visualizes Bill’s practical experience building physical longhouses.  I will respond directly below in the comments section.BKennedy_Support

 

Longhouse 3.1

kegressy-IMG_2996mv-500WIt’s been a bit since our last post.  My partner in this project, Craig Barr, was off in LA doing a training shoot for Lynda.com and while he was away, I took some time for a short vacation and a chance to catch up on more readings.  During that time something odd happened which started me thinking about environmental lifecycle of a longhouse.  My wife and I live in the country in a wood framed and sided British Loyalist style house.  We woke up in the morning from a pounding coming from the kids room on the second floor and with them at camp, we rushed in to see were the noise was coming from.  Discovering quickly that it wasn’t coming from inside, but outside of the house, we ran down, out the back door to discover a Ontario Pileated Woodpecker making a meal out of my Maibec siding.  As you can see from the University of Guelph picture above, these lovely birds can make quite a lot of damage!  It got me thinking about the environmental stressors Iroquoian longhouse builders and inhabitants had to endure; mice, fleas, stray racoons (if they were dumb enough to venture in), small birds, insects and of course, woodpeckers and other wildlife assuming the longhouse was just another tree in the woods.  Along with considering to add these elements to our digital (re)construction, I encountered moss growing unconstrained on the North side of our house and along the brick walkway which also got me thinking about if the houses were regularly maintained.  Our woodpecker however will definitely be included within the audio segment of our Unity longhouse virtual archaeology environment and I hope to add some additional visual elements as we continue to build!

Craig is back in LA this week for SIGGRAPH 2015, where he will be demonstrating at the Unity, Autodesk and Lynda.com booths. However we have made some progress on the internal modeling and the initial external longhouse structure.  In Longhouse 3.0.5 we started to play with the interior bunking based on the oral and historical material available. As seen in the image below, we followed Dean Snow’s (1997) description of cedar barking being used for walls to provide delineation of family sleeping cubicles.  This building technique isn’t mentioned in Northern Iroquoian histories, but I thought it would be an interesting addition to test visually.Bunks_updateSeen in the images below from the Canadian Canoe Museum, cedar bark can be very easily harvested into long pliable sheets.  The inner side is softer and has a warmer cork-like colour and texture.  The outer side is the traditional mottled black and white rougher bark.  Immediately the discussion turned to whether the bark sheets were used for the roof and to mask the exterior wall (almost in a drywall application).  However that notion quickly was discarded as people sleeping on the platform would be pressing against the sheets on the exterior wall with their feet (assuming that everyone slept with their heads towards the fire) and cedar bark when dry would be more brittle and less forgiving to wear and tear.opening-the-bark-profileAnother concern was, if cedar was used to separate the sleeping compartments and if only one strip of cedar was used, which family would get the rougher side and which would get the seemingly nicer side?  This then led to a discussion on combining two sheets, so that each family had a softer side facing their compartment and it also helped to reinforce the wall and bark which would hopefully endure greater wear and tear.  bark-sheets-laid-outAlso, since cedar is very thin, we decided that small gauge rope cordage would be used to secure or tie down the wall sheets.  We have no record whatsoever of this practice or even an extended use of cedar sheets for wall covering in Longhouses (although there is speculation that cedar sheets did adorn the ends of the longhouses from the rounded vestibules (storage & entry areas), however, the beauty of using 3D modelling is the ability to test these assumptions.

As seen below, final strapping to secure the sleeping platform was also used (a difficult feat in 3D modelling) and we knew that white ash (which might have been used if available) for sleeping platforms would generally be about 8 meters in length at maximum or two sleeping platforms long.  Hence we needed to figure out what to do when two poles butted up against each other to continue the sleeping platform.  We added a second support and assumed that the terminus of the poles would be roughly where the compartment wall would be.  Additionally, with the support poles, the sleeping platform poles have a slight taper from one end to the other to represent the natural growth pattern of the tree.  Finally, it was decided to completely strip all bark away assuming that every piece of available bark would be used for something else.  As such, Craig put dirt smudges into the textures and even finger prints to simulate continued use.Strapping_updateWe started placing proxy examples of wood supplies under the main bench as also described in Snow (1997) and added rough versions of grass matts on the ground to simulate where they would be placed around our eventual fire hearths.  Although I haven’t asked Craig to try and simulate a blanket of mixed fur bearing animals (beaver, racoon, fox, rabbit and such) we did cut down on the Grey Wolf and Black Bear furs (less represented in the faunal middens) and increased the deer skins (abundantly represented within multiple archaeological sites) to start suggesting what would be used for bedding.  Lastly, the first modelling draft of the grass matts suggested that we would likely have to use a dull yellow or brown as the initial green would disappear very quickly as the plant dried out.  The strips would also have to be thinner to meet the scale of the rest of the items in the longhouse.Interior_Test

 

Our next effort started with the exterior poles of the house.  As discussed previously, the research group chose to go with a Kapche’s longhouse framing methodology as opposed to Wright or Snow’s interpretation.  This was primarily done due to the long history of longhouse construction at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in which this model has become a key style choice.  However as noted, we really have no clue what style any of the Northern Iroquoian groups used, mixed or matched in their many centuries of building refinements.  This does not preclude that other styles might have been in used or that within 3D visualization that models are in any way static, just that for our purposes we chose to go with the traditional framing methodology used when representing and visualizing the Lawson Village site.

Below is our first attempt at understanding how the support structure would work with the arching wall posts.  Based on Dodd’s research, exterior wall posts were 1-3cm’s in diameter and on average there was 4.5 poles per meter along the length of the longhouse.  We assumed a pole would have to be longer than 7.5m’s (the width and thus height of our test longhouse) in order to have enough length to both bend and then be secured down to some sort of roofing system.  As with the support posts, a slight taper was introduced from the thick end to the tip of the roof end.Ext_wall_testIt was immediately clear that the wall posts would need to be “moulded” around additional support structure poles to allow for the wall poles to be bent, but also tied down to create the tension needed for the distinctive arbour roof.  The picture below are my production notes back to Craig requesting changes to how the interior support structures would ideally need to be if following this methodology.  Keep in mind that our experiment is not architecturally based but visually and artistically.  I fully realize we are making broad assumptions at every level.Ext_wall_test_RevisionsThe assumption is that the exterior poles would be placed into the ground and then bent over the support infrastructure.  There is an 11 minute video on Youtube describing how two families built an Iroquois (South of the Great Lakes) longhouse more in the tradition of Dean Snow’s theories.  In it, they describe using rope to pull on the end of the wall pole to bend it in shape as another person tied down the pole to the interior framing, creating the arbour style of roof.  I can imagine this type of construction methodology being deployed easily with a two or three person crew.

In the next post we will explore the exterior framing further and the refinement of the interior space.  I will also be weaving in two great papers I’ve read recently.  The first by Dr. Sara Perry entitled Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology (2014), which explores the academic acceptance, or not, of archaeological illustration which 3D animation and virtual reality visualization falls under.  The second paper Modeling in archaeology: computer graphic and other digital pasts by Grahame Earl (2013) starts to question whether digital assets have “agency” or can be truly representative of the physical archaeological record.  Both papers help to solidify the valuable work of visualizing heritage as archaeological research and not just illustrations for public consumption.