Thursday, 26 February 2015

Monday's seminar

Hi all,

Sorry, but here's another good article on serious games.  It's kinda long.. but there's a lot of interesting stuff out there on the topic of virtual reality, immersive environments and serious games as they relate to cultural heritage..
Some general things I want to think about are: What do 'immersion', 'reality', 'authenticity' and 'accuracy' really (and variously) mean in the context of heritage and serious games.
How does immersion affect learning, and what does this mean for pedagogy going forward (relating to heritage).
Or, what implications might these media have for the physical heritage (because there will always be physical heritage)

Bellotti et al. (2012) "A Serious Game Model for Cultural Heritage"
should be easy to find on Google scholar.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Just a little humour.

I suppose this can happen when interpretation is left open.

Thinking of today's discussion..

I was thinking of today's discussion and all of the unanswered questions when I came across this on the internet.  I wonder what discussions were behind the decision to scan here?

Next week's seminar

One focus of next weeks seminar is immersive virtual environments and the ways they are used in setting up interactions with heritage.  On this topic, I would like to add a reading that deals with virtual representations of archaeological sites in the present (rather than in the speculated past) as a means of improving interpretation and understanding of the site.  I think this article can contribute a different angle to discussions on the importance of immersion as well as the idea of accuracy/authenticity of representation.   The article can be found at
and the doi is 10.1109/DigitalHeritage.2013.6743761
And it is also searchable by title on Google scholar.
Smith et al. 2013. ArtifactVis2: Managing real-time archaeological data in immersive 3D
environments. Digital Heritage International Congress (DigitalHeritage),  (Volume:1 )

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Something to mull over for tomorrow

Hey all,

Tomorrow we talk about visualization and 3D printing. What the readings don't really address are some of the broader 'disruptive" social impacts these technologies have, and especially in museum contexts, but of course, this is where both intended and unintended consequences of the embracing of this "dance of the flip-flip" approach to the digital and physical really play out. I like Liz Neely and Miriam Langer's exploration of these ideas in a paper they wrote in 2013. They clearly are fans of the transformative implications this technology has for museums and museum experience, but are not so doe-y eyed as to not recognize some of the challenges.

I encourage you to read this short and interesting paper for our discussion tomorrow, as well as remind you of the blog I posted last month on the qualms I have with the whole 3D printing thing, since these are certainly themes I am hoping we get to unpack tomorrow. See you all then!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Traditional vs. digital excavation at the Qin Shi Huang tomb

The famous tomb of Qin Shi Huang (think of the terracotta army) is a site I find of particular interest when considering the application of digital remote sensing in archaeology. The limited amount that is known about the burial easily captivates the imagination – peripheral excavations and historical accounts suggest that the tomb consists of a massive buried structure filled with untold (or told but unconfirmed) marvels. It's thought that the burial chamber contains an intricate diorama of the Qin empire, complete with rivers and lakes of mercury, and that it is protected by booby-traps of various types. What is most remarkable about this site is that it has never been excavated (the tomb structure itself) and that it it likely to stay this way for a while yet. Remote sensing studies, on the other hand have been conducted at the site, yielding positive results that suggest a level of optimism for further accessing the mysteries of the tomb non-invasively (eg. Tan et al. 2006).

Remote sensing at the Qin tomb represents an example of the way methods of digital archaeology can grant us access to spaces and data that are (for various reasons) not accessible. It seems likely that as techniques of imaging and sensing improve, more will become known about this site without needing to excavate or disturb it in any significant way. In this sense, non-invasive digital techniques can have replaced inherently destructive excavation methods for the benefit of heritage preservation, creating a radical new digital archaeology.

Yet, this seems not to be entirely the case. A cursory Google search on the topic yields certain patterns of opinion on the topic. The general attitude of commentators seems to be that hesitance to excavate has been based on insecurity regarding the inadequacies of modern excavation and preservation techniques, as well as health related fears (mercury, booby-traps). It seems that digital methods are to be considered a tool for guiding excavation in some future time when someone has decided that the time has come to open the tomb. This attitude (though recent opinions are oddly hard to find) threatens to miss the opportunity for heritage preservation through digital archaeological means. The site seems well suited for remote sensing techniques to take the central role in the archaeological investigation of a significant site that, arguably, need never be excavated. Burials, after all, are the types of sites that have the potential to fulfill their intended purposes forever as long as they remain unmolested by archaeologists.   

Tan, K. Wan, Y., Zhou X., Song D., Duan, Q. 2006. “The application of remote sensing technology in the archaeological study of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qinshihuang.” International Journal of Remote Sensing. 27(16):3347–3363.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

You can't do that in "real" worlds!


here is an interesting application for virtual reality I came across in a Wired article... an art gallery of paintings that have all been lost or stolen (you can see an explanatory video on Vimeo. Interesting idea that works remarkably well wearing an Occulus Rift. Of course, you need high resolution images for it to work well, but I could imagine, for example, another gallery of lost heritage monuments, etc. Gives a whole new twist to the idea of conserving the past for tomorrow!

The virtual space was designed to look like a traditional museum.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Digitising Disease: The Creation of 3D Models of Human Remains

As Neal has previously mentioned in his January 18th, 2015 blog post titled “The Ever Murkier World of Replicating Heritage”, the capacity to scan and 3D print archaeological artifacts is both a fascinating and foreboding idea. 3D printing has the potential to open the lines of communication within and outside of academia by providing access to archaeological information throughout the global community of students, educators, researchers and members of the public. Interested to the extent of which the discipline of palaeopathology has been using this emerging technology, I investigated several digital projects that have been put in motion throughout the world with the aim of creating accessible and comprehensive palaeopathological data sets that are available online.
Perhaps the most prolific of the projects is Digitised Diseases; an open access online resource which features human bones that have been digitized using a 3D laser scanner, CT and radiography. The project uses archaeological and historical medical collections to demonstrate a wide range of pathologies that affect the human skeleton. Using photo-realistic digital representations of 3D bones, this resource features hundreds of specimens that can be viewed, downloaded and manipulated on the user’s computer, tablet or smartphone. The project originated in 2011 through collaboration between the University of Bradford, the Museum of London Archaeology and the Royal College of Surgeons of England and has been supported by the Jisc Content Programme until 2013.
Between the three major partners, there was an extensive osteological sample to work with. The University of Bradford houses nearly 4000 sets of archaeological remains that span over several temporal and spatial periods in the UK. In addition, the two project partners in London both have notable collections as The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) houses the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy & Pathology and the Hunterian Collection at Lincolns Inn Fields. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) in Shoreditch holds recently excavated assemblages mostly from London and has historic ties to the Centre for Human Bioarchaeology at the Museum of London which acts as a repository for archived human remains assemblages recorded using the shared Wellcome Osteological Research Database (WORD).

From the collective and extensive reference samples available, specimens were selected for the online database based off of any visible or previously known pathology present in the skeleton. From there, the specimen was classified into a hierarchical structure of distinct disease categories- this was done for both user accessibility and project management. The disease classification system used for Digitsed Diseases is available online here. The selected bones were then scanned using a Faro Quantum laserarm scanner and uploaded into the online database where the 3D model and accompanying 3D printing mesh are made available for users to download. With over 1600 3D pathological models with accompanying CT data, radiographs, videos and clinical synopses, Digitised Diseases represents one of the first systematic and born digital projects in the palaeopathology.
This database creates both a wealth of information and complications made available through 3D scanning technologies. Perhaps one of the most prominent issues with the creation of such a resource is the public display and accessibility to thousands of facsimiles that were created using real human remains. Although the project website does provide a disclaimer imploring that the models only be used in educational and scientific settings, there is no policing organization that can continually monitor the use of each of the 3D downloads throughout the world. Thus, the models can be downloaded and used in a variety of settings including art installations. The misuse or abuse of the models is a major concern for the discipline of palaeopathology that strives for the respectful treatment of human remains.  In addition, the definitive diagnosis of the specimens made on the website does not reflect the reality of diagnosing disease in human remains. During an informal discussion regarding this database with a palaeopathologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, I was informed that researchers are aware that this resource exists but are critical of several of the diagnoses provided (disease patterns are often influenced by a concomitant of factors and can thus present in individualistic manifestation). It was mentioned that during a conference presentation the previous year, 7 out of the 27 pathologies that were discussed using this database has been misdiagnosed. This proves problematic not only for the reliability of the website, but for the accuracy of the information that researchers and students alike are generating based off of specimen data.

Overall, I was impressed with the extensive collection and diversity of pathologies that are available through Digitising Disease. I firmly believe that 3D technologies have the capability of transforming how knowledge is transmitted and disseminated throughout academia and to the general public (a concept which I hope to explore with the upcoming digital project). Even though this is an emerging form of data and there are still several issues that need to be worked out, 3D models have the ability to transform the discipline of palaeopathology from a narrow stream of anthropology into an integrative and interdisciplinary field that combines multiple lines of evidence to better predict future disease patterns.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Promise of Online and Transcendent Archaeological Information Databases

From the Online Lapita Ceramic Database (

So this week we're looking at managing information and data in archaeology, and the challenges of making data accessible. We're reading about initiatives in Europe that are seeking to allow regional and national databases transcend borders and transcend practitioner idioms to be of use... in a meaningful and comparable way to researchers, wherever they are.

Another example where online research tools transcends borders is if you happen to be working in a part of the world where subject matter transcends a lot of limited physical borders, and dispersed communities of scholars. This is really a challenge for archaeologists who work with ancient cultures of the Pacific. The physical challenges of documenting collections from dispersed island places is also compounded by the fact that there is a very dispersed community of scholars spanning the eastern and western ends of the Pacific. This has traditionally been a real limitation of people working with Lapita ceramics, for example, leaving them working on only portions of the overall record and only really learning about other collections through word of mouth or the odd publication.

Which is why I'm a big fan of the work by Scarlett Chiu, at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. She has developed a very robust and very user friendly database of Lapita ceramics that helps researchers looking for patterns of decoration, distribution, etc., allowing them to come to this centralized database to both access information, and, importantly, upload their own information.

It is a research portal I hope Sustainable Archaeology can begin to model as collection information begins to build up at SA, allowing people real access to collections, and even attributes, to explore ancient material patterns in ways previously unimaginable... After all if Scarlett can transcend the limitations of the Pacific to provide centralized material access to Lapita ceramic assemblages, surely we can do that for the Northeast and Great Lakes region!