Time Travel: What’s Cool in 3D Archaeology?

Flag Fen Fly through

The age of exploration may largely be over, but if one thing’s for sure, most of us don’t have the time, money or expertise for antarctic missions, deep sea dives or interplanetary voyages.

And yet… archaeologists are using virtual and augmented reality to help people explore and interact with the ancient world in totally new ways. Here are some of the coolest projects to see:

Reconstruct Rome

How do cities grow? Aquae Urbis Romae is an interactive time lapse animation that allows anyone to analyse the urban development of Rome across space and time. Choose from sacred buildings, infrastructure, hydraulics and more, and watch Rome’s urban sprawl expand, shrink, and grow once more, in the click of a button!

Peruse Petra

Using a terrestrial laser scanner (LiDAR) the Petra Cyber-Archaeology Cultural Conservation Expedition brought the Temple of the Winged Lions back to life from its crumbled remains. They used a low-altitude balloon to scan 28,000 points and recreate the mosaic floor, pillars, and walls to give viewers a detailed view of the original appearance of the temple, and enable the exploration of its different sections.

Explore an Excavation

At DigVentures’ own excavations at Leiston Abbey, we’ve been using photogrammetry to take our finds fresh from the trench straight to an online interactive 3D model within 48 hours – explore the abbey ruins, get a close-up look at an intricately carved bone knife handle, flip a Medieval coin or even get involved in the interpretation of our discoveries, wherever you are in the world. Now that’s armchair archaeology!

Journey through Jarlshof

This short computer generated film by Kieran Baxter tells the story of settlement at Jarlshof in the Shetland Islands. The film is based on aerial photographs taken from a kite-suspended camera.

Fly through Flag Fen

Due out in September, this Kickstarter just funded a new project by Marcus Abbott that aims to combine topographical and scientific data in order to produce lifelike representations the Bronze Age village of Flag Fen. Once it’s completed, you’ll be able to fly through hyper-real fens (though if you want a truly lifelike representation, presumably you’d have to eliminate the “flying” option and slop around in a digital bog instead?).

Where next…?

Full of artefacts, buildings, spatial data, topographical maps and interlinking sites, archaeology is undoubtedly a visual field, in an increasingly visual world. Virtual records not only enable us all to explore and become increasingly immersed in the ancient world, but may also help future archaeologists to research these sites, and analyse their relationship with other heritage sites, but there’s more to it than that!

The University of York’s Heritage Jam asked artists, animators and designers to get together with museum and heritage professionals to explore the theme of ’death and burial’ – the result is an exciting array of innovative and original visualisations that bring the past to life, such as Voices Recognition, an app which literally gives York Cemetery’s history a voice and a visual representation of ‘The Language of Memory’.

With a bit of imagination, there are unprecedented opportunities to advance the research, record, interpretation and dissemination of archaeological discoveries – we can’t wait!

Love archaeology?

DigVentures crowdfunds archaeological projects that everyone can be part of, in the UK and overseas. With help from people all over the world, we investigate the past and publish our discoveries online for free. Become a DigVentures Subscriber and be part of great archaeology - all year round!


Written by Kirsten Amor

On-line, Kirsten is a squeaky clean communications volunteer for the Brunel Museum and freelance heritage journalist; offline, and she's a dirt-covered urchin scaling rocks and trails in search of obscure archaeological sites. Her hobbies include photography, rock-climbing, hiking, and half-finished crafts projects. Twitter: @amorexplore

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