Virtual Reality and Neuroarchaeology (2020-2021)

Building on the work of previous teams, this project team explored spatial embodiment in virtual simulations of Etruscan and Roman cities and cemeteries as well as in real experiences during archaeological excavations. The team used portable EEG devices and eye tracking systems to acquire biometric data as well as virtual headsets, holographic screens and digital desktop simulations in the lab to engender embodied simulation.

Using various technologies and methods, team members measured perceptual judgments of scale, distance, symbols, colors, architectural features and particular objects in virtual context. Using Likert scale questionnaires, the team probed user experiences of the virtual scenarios, focusing on the visual and auditory dimensions of episodic memory and the topography of buildings, the spatial relations among architectural features, the location of key objects, the symbolic imagery embedded in the scenarios and the sounds generated to simulate performative experience of the virtual spaces.

While the pandemic limited the team’s ability to conduct in-person fieldwork, team members worked closely with partners in Italy to use digital scanners to help create 3-D digital models of artifacts. The team also built a digital repository of 3-D images that can be accessed by researchers online and we also able get much of the data about Vulci 3000’s finds online and available to fellow archeologists. Some of that data was used to create virtual versions of parts of the site and of artifacts with help from Duke’s MorphoSource repository.

Subgroups included:

  • Archaeological Data Capturing and Digital Reconstruction, which focused on virtual fieldwork archaeology in Italy (Rome, Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Vulci) to record data for spatial analysis, virtual simulations and emotional experiences. Data was recorded by rover-robots in order to compare different simulations’ ontologies. 
  • Virtual Archaeology, which focused on the implementation of archaeological data for immersive VR platforms such as Oculus, Oculus Go, Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest. The Duke team worked on the implementation of archaeological data in Unity 3D and the NC State team delivered applications aimed at the virtual reconstruction of archaeological excavations.
  • Neuro-archaeology, which began testing the use of different neuro-devices (Epoc+ EEG 14 Channel and Epoc Flex 32 Channel) and eye-tracking systems (Gazepoint GP3) for the analysis of virtual reconstructions of sites and monuments, as well as the study of cognitive, perceptual, proprioceptive and motor aspects of spatial embodiment in lab.


Summer 2020 – Spring 2021

Team Outputs

Project website

Applications for Oculus Quest and Oculus Go

Augmented reality app for museums and parks


Brain Activity and Eye Tracking in a Virtual Archaeological Excavation

This Team in the News

Exhibit Reveals Buried Etruscan-Roman-Era Secrets Uncovered by Duke Archeologists

Reimagining Global Research in a Pandemic

See earlier related team, Smart Archaeology (2019-2020).


Image: Virtual plateau tour of archaeological site at Vulci

Archaeological site.

Team Leaders

  • Todd Berreth, North Carolina State University
  • Maurizio Forte, Arts & Sciences-Classical Studies
  • Leonard White, School of Medicine-Neurology
  • David Zielinski, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies

/graduate Team Members

  • Antonio LoPiano, Classical Studies-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Ryleigh Byrne, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Surya Cannon, Art History (AB)
  • Mary Jiang, IDM:VMS-CS Computational Media
  • Laukik Nagawekar
  • Kate Straneva, Computer Science (BS)
  • Xinyi Tan, Economics (BS)
  • Braeden Ward
  • Sean Woytowitz
  • Alex Xu, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Lawrence Appelbaum, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Nevio Danelon, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • Michael Zavlanos, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
  • Etruscan Museum of Milano