Digital Archaeological and Historic Landscapes: Laboratory and Fieldwork (2015-2016)

How did the lagoon appear to the ancient Venetians when they looked out their windows? What plants grew near the Etruscan tombs? During the Neolithic Era, what did the inhabitants of Çatalhöyük in Turkey see?

Virtual reality allows us to see through the eyes of our ancestors by “diving” into ancient landscapes using sophisticated 3D visualizing systems such as the DiVE, Oculus Rift and zSpace. These immersive systems substantially increase our interpretations and perceptions of the virtual environment and digital landscapes. They essentially become time machines. Visitors in museums wearing special glasses can walk, run and interact with the ancient landscape by moving surrounding objects. The use of these platforms is a way to satisfy visitors’ curiosity and allow scientists to explore details of the past that cannot be observed using classic or conventional techniques. Virtual reality is a tool used to do an in depth study of the past and to teach students. Students use virtual reality to learn how to implement data found in archives and historical maps and to build a mosaic of information, recreating our ancestors’ world.

This project team refined a virtual reality system to recreate the archaeological experience using data and 3D models from the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, in Anatolia, Turkey. Users can view information from an existing archaeological database contextually, in three-dimensional space, for objects documented by field archaeologists. The system allows for measurement and analysis of artifacts and land on-site.

Digital archaeologists captured 3D models of the dig site and landscape through image-based modeling (photogrammetry), laser scanning, LIDAR and other methods. 3D models of the site and artifacts were imported into the Unity3D game engine, where interactions and display allow analysis and further discovery within the application. The application was built with Oculus Rift as a head-mounted-display. Razer Hydra tracked wands were used as input devices. For DiVE, companion apps were built for Google Glass and iPad, which dynamically display information from the site database relating to feature being examined.


Fall 2015 – Summer 2016

Team Outcomes

Helena Murteira, Maurizio Forte. “Digital Cities in Between History and Archaeology.” . 2020. Oxford University Press.

Lercari, Nicola; Shiferaw, Emmanuel; Forte, Maurizio; Kopper, Regis. 2017. Data from: Immersive Visualization and Curation of Archaeological Heritage Data: Çatalhöyük and the Dig@IT App. UC San Diego Library Digital Collections.

Dig@IT: Virtual Reality in Archaeology (poster by Emmanuel Shiferaw, Cheng Ma, Regis Kopper, Maurizio Forte, Nicola Lercari)

Historic Salt Marsh Decline in the Venice Lagoon (poster by Sophia Sennett and Sonia Silvestri)

Feature Interpretations from Ground Penetrating Radar at Vulci, Italy (data visualization by Katherine McCusker; second place in the Duke University Libraries 2016 Student Data Visualization Contest)

This Team in the News

High-Tech Tools Yield Roman Discovery

Classic Digs Go Digital

2016 Student Data Visualization Contest Winners (Katherine McCusker)

$25 Million Gift, $50 Million Center to Elevate Arts

See related teams, The Digital Landscape: New Technologies to Visualize Ancient Landscapes (2014-2015) and Digital Cities and Polysensing Environments (2016-2017). This project was selected by the Franklin Humanities Institute as a humanities-connected project.

Team Leaders

  • Maurizio Forte, Arts & Sciences-Classical Studies
  • Regis Kopper, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science
  • Sonia Silvestri, Nicholas School of the Environment-Earth and Climate Sciences

/graduate Team Members

  • Katherine McCusker, Art and Art History-AM, Art and Art History-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Hans Lie-Nielsen, Earth & Ocean Sciences (AB)
  • Cheng Ma, Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Computer Science (AB2)
  • Sophia Sennett, Visual and Media Studies (AB)
  • Emmanuel Shiferaw, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Anna Speth

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Nevio Danelon, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Nicola Lercari, University of California-Merced, World Heritage Program