Augmented Reality in the Archaeological Field: Redefining the Past

25 Sep. 21

Research into pre-recorded history is a long, arduous process. We still lack a full understanding of the Earth, human beings, and our full evolution. While it is likely we’ll never get the whole story, technological advances are changing not just how we go about using our archaeological tools, but could also change how we see the past through the use of augmented reality.

Augmented reality, or AR, is simply a technology used to superimpose computer-generated imagery (CGI) over the real world, in real-time. For years now, the implementation of AR in archaeology has been a goal of many archaeologists. This is because augmented reality technology can give us an idea of not only how ancient ruins, buildings, and civilizations looked; but also an idea and window into how these societies functioned on a day-to-day basis.

One of the earliest AR experiences for archaeology was ARCHEOGUIDE, released in 2001. ARCHEOGUIDE is a digital tourist experience of an archaeological site, allowing users to generate a profile that outlines their interests and backgrounds who they are. From there, they’re sent on a personalized tour created specifically for the user and presented through an AR headset. From there, reconstructions of the ancient ruins of many cities are recreated and overlaid upon the real world, in real-time.

Beyond ARCHEOGUIDE, there are other AR systems designed to help you experience the past and the culture which existed at that time. The Cultural Heritage Experiences is another such project which takes a similar approach to ARCHEOGUIDE but with a more sophisticated profile system to further personalize your trip through the AR-guided experience.

One of Cultural Heritage’s most popular attractions is the Acropolis Museum, as well as an AR application set in the volcanic decimated Pompeii. George Papagiannakis, the producer of the Pompeii AR simulation; worked closely with his team using track video see-through software and dynamic 3D modeling in order to create virtual characters in various buildings inside of virtual Pompeii in order to tell stories to tourists in real-time related to the volcanic eruption.

Of course, beyond the world of interactive tours and AR events for tourists; there are far more applications for AR in the realm of archaeology. There have been a variety of soft wares developed over the years which aim to investigate archaeological sites and make exploration safer and simpler for those researching it. One AR plugin which has been widely used in combination with the gaming engine Unity 3D is Qualcomm’s ‘Vuforia,’ an AR app with customer scripting which allows geographic data and areas to be explored through AR.

Stuart Eve, an archaeologist living in London and a member of the American Schools of Oriental Research; utilizes AR in his everyday work in order to explore the history and discover the secrets that ruins and artifacts contain. He uses AR in order to study a Bronze Age settlement, located in Leskernick Hill in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK. Through the use of AR, he discovered the remains of over 50 different roundhouse structures, some with full walls, doorways, and other architecture still intact. But when he viewed the site through AR, he was astounded at the level of detail the technology could utilize when showing these ancient structures in their full glory. Moreover, using AR he was able to simulate what it would have been like to peer through the doorway of one of these homes and take in the sight of the breathtaking landscape which stretches before them. Even more astounding, Eve found the AR technology’s quality did not diminish at a distance. Testing the software, he captured the same settlement from farther away and was still able to see the faint outline of the roundhouses through the app.

Eve’s report also touches on the possibility of not just an augmented reality perspective for the eyes, but the ears as well. He states using a device worn around his neck can work directly with AR software GIS in order to periodically release odors based on his geographical location. GIS is also capable of creating sounds inside of a landscape played according to your current GPS location. By using his software and customer programming, he was able to sit in the AR roundhouse; hearing people working and speaking about him as he smelt a meal cook over the roundhouse fire.

What Eve’s work in archaeology shows us is AR is a powerful tool that might assist us in recreating and understanding more deeply our own human history. Even more impressive, this study took place well into the infancy of AR yet only required a bit of GIS programming and an iPad in order to create this incredible, immersive experience. While AR is still growing, it may provide us with a different sort of time travel; and allow us to connect with our ancient ancestors from all those centuries ago.

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