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Virtual Archaeology, WAC 6

July 24, 2008

There was one big problem with WAC 6 in UCD – too much stuff. We tried to get to as many presentations as we could. Of particular interest was the Archaeology in the Digital Age 2.0 theme. The overall focus of the theme was how archaeology is responding to the challenges of the digital age, and how the digital revolution is impacting on our discipline. Over time we’ll review some of the presentations we went to see (including the fulacht session) and some of the issues arising, starting with Shawn Grahams presentation on Second Life.

Shawns presentation – Electric archaeology: archaeology in and archaeology of ‘Second Life’  – was to have been presented live from SL, but there was no interweb connectivity in the room (no-one’s fault – but really, a digital archaeology theme where getting the interweb was not possible – tut, tut, UCD – and I can’t believe I just wrote the words ‘tut, tut’ – must be because I was in Dublin and their strange city ways have infected me, next thing you know I’ll be going to ‘rindstone’ via Galways ‘rindabites’).  A video of Shawns presentation is available at his blog here. He discusses in detail the idea of using SL to ‘do’ archaeology and presents the application of the virtual world for teaching and experiencing archaeology.

Dec’s avatar in SL, lost over the ocean somewhere

SL is an internet-based virtual world video game where ‘residents’ can explore, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade items and services with one another. At this stage in its development, SL has more than 4m residents and businesses and brands are already staking their claims and building their presences in this virtual market (although some commentators say that there’s only a 10% resident retention – ie.. daily loggers-on – and that corporate/business outlets can expect a mere 3 users a day).

So, what’s the point of SL? I can understand how some imaginative and creative type-people could have fun creating and building things, how and why Shawn has created his educational archaeology tool, and even the card gaming and slots, but the social aspect where virtual people float around and ‘party’ or whatever, just seems weird. In a way the place is a sort of 3D MyFace, another area of new media/new social networkingisation that I’m not getting. As of yet, the quality of the graphics still leave a little to be desired, and the whole thing is a bit clumsy and lacks a general focus.

Smoke rising from Çatalhöyük in Second Life

Okay – I just don’t understand second life. I’ve left two avatars behind there now, can’t find them, and couldn’t really be bothered. One is quietly floating above an ocean somewhere and the other is left standing at Çatalhöyük, staring into the middle distance forlornly, alone and unloved. I wandered about aimlessly for a while in there, ran away from strangers who bumped into my avatar and said ‘hello’, and quickly transported to the quietest place I could find for some bloody peace.

As to its uses in Archaeology, Shawns place (do a search in SL for Shawn Graham) demonstrates the possibilities for teaching and outreach, for presenting results and archaeological data. Although still somewhat clumsy (not in any way meaning to take away from the great work thats been done here), the Çatalhöyük place demonstrates the potential that exists for presenting the results of archaeological work (particularily in the context of spectacular sites like Çatalhöyük)  – you can find Çatalhöyük in SL by teleporting to ‘OKAPI. And according to Discovery News (their writer Archaeorama also has a SL presence) Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has decided to exploit the potential of virtual/SL Archaeology by building the first 3D model of Egypt’s oldest stepped pyramid (the Pyramid of Djoser).

Çatalhöyük from the air

However the problem still remains that these virtual sites (and the virtual world in general) often look the same, and feel clumsy, lifeless, and above all else, too clean. Oftentimes, they are just plain boring… but maybe that’s just me, I still refuse to ‘twitter’, get ‘LinkedIn’, meet friends on Bebo and you certainly won’t see me on MyFace.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Shawn permalink
    July 24, 2008 4:05 pm

    The problem of ‘cleanliness’ is a perennial problem in archae VR. Check out the Iconoclasm.dk blog, and Troel’s comments on the ‘Rome Reborn’ project from U Virginia, where this problem is discussed…

    In Second Life, there is a ‘dumpster’ where unwanted objects can be left to decay, which puts one in mind of ritual depositions…

    I’ve another paper on archaeology & SL on my blog, from the year previously, I’d be interested in your comments on that one!

    Thanks!

  2. July 29, 2008 9:13 am

    Thanks for turning me onto the Iconoclasm blog Shawn. Andrew Watsons comment there is pertinent – perhaps expectations are too high. But, with TV programmes of the quality of ‘Rome’ which far more vividly recreate the sounds and sights of ancient Rome, these type of reconstructions are always going to be disappointing, slightly sterile and really only useful as a tool for digitally preserving the archaeological resource or as educational tools. As entertainment, they seem limited as of yet. Speaking of which there was another fascinating session at WAC on ‘Archaeology as entertainment’ which I must blog about soon.

    @e-archaeology, Gracias por su comentario. Apenas quiero precisar que Çatalhöyük en el SL fue construido cerca, yo pienso, OKAPI. El sitio de Shawns es un diverso sitio. And I hope that my Babelfish Spanish comes across as polite, well mannered and friendly….

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  1. Arqueología en Second Life « e-archaeology

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