I’ve never tried to hide it, I am a huge geek. Something I’ve been following closely for the past few years is virtual reality. VR technology has been around since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2012 or so when the Oculus Rift hit the scene that VR became more accessible for the average consumer. Of course, there was Nintendo’s Virtual Boy released in 1995, but it didn’t really catch on. Since the Oculus Rift is still in production and has spawned numerous generic devices, I’m using it as the current standard of home VR technology. Anyway, VR has become more widely available in the modern market and has been used for everything from videogames to training medical and military personnel. Within the past few years, the realm of archaeology has really started to play with VR and I for one am ecstatic.
VR within the realm of archaeology has focused on the obvious of bringing sites to people. This is done by using reality capture techniques (like photogrammetry, LiDAR, and sonar) that scan a site and allow for the creation of a digital model. Bringing the sites to people encourages education of archaeology and could potentially reduce tourism related issues at sites. There’s always the devil’s advocate approach, worrying that this could encourage looting, but let’s try to be positive about the general human population for a moment. Still, VR goes beyond bringing sites to the public. As of 2017, the Smithsonian Magazine reported VR had been used to reconnect the Tejon tribe with sites of their cultural heritage. Now, this may be no different in the execution of reproducing the site, but there is an actual connection here between people and the site. This is only from within the first few years of VR really taking off with the public, I can’t wait to see how far it can be taken.
Imagine, one day you may be able to put on a VR headset and look at any site in the world (assuming it’s been digitized). Better yet, you may be able to interact with artifacts in situ. Or how about going on a virtual excavation to better understand the site, doesn’t that sound amazing? It’s all possible, but there’s a catch. This can’t be done for free, you need to do all the coding to interact with the artifacts and purchase or rent equipment to produce the site model itself. You can’t forget the cost of whoever has to initially record the site plus whatever expenses there are for the archaeological examination. In short, this is pricey now, but it’s possible that the costs will decrease through time as it gets easier to do this kind of work. Despite the current costs, I hope VR becomes a staple of public outreach in archaeology. I really think the possibilities are only limited by our imaginations here and that this could become an incredible teaching tool for future generations.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!