Virtual Worlds as Venues for Public Archaeology

The Past

by Beverly Chiarulli

Since 2007, I have been interested in using virtual reality to recreate archaeological experiences. That year, Scott Moore, of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) History Department and I received funding from the University to develop “Archaeology Island” in Second Life. The Island contained four virtual archaeological experiences based on Scott’s investigations in Roman sites in Cyprus and underwater sites and my investigations of Maya sites, like Cerros in Belize and Late Prehistoric sites in Pennsylvania. The site developed on Second Life in a haphazard way until 2009 when one of my students, Marion Smeltzer, became interested in the site, revamped it, and even began to develop additions.

Marion added new components including the Laurel Hill/Brown farm. The farm, established in 1790 and occupied until the 1960s, was the site of an antebellum community of former slaves located on top of a ridge in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania. Because of its inaccessibility, the area has been reconstructed virtually to show the landscape, buildings and stone marking the graves of Civil War Colored Troops.  Marion worked with the local community to reconstruct the site in Second Life.

Four years after its start, IUP’s Archaeology Island moved from Linden Lab’s Second Life to the OpenSim VIBE grid, an alternative virtual environment that can be used as a tool for visualization, training, and scientific discovery. Most of the Archaeology Island redesign and move to Vibe has been undertaken by Marion Smeltzer now a Graduate Student in the Anthropology Department MA in Applied Archaeology Program. A short video about Archaeology Island is on YouTube.

The Future

by Marion Smeltzer

Marion Smeltzer and the Leica Scanstation at the Allegheny Portage Skew Arch

A virtual world is an Internet based, simulated environment where motion enabled avatars, graphic images and 3D models represent people, places, and objects.  As online learning becomes an important part of instruction in high schools and university settings, our challenge is to develop curricula that incorporates archaeology into these courses. Our goal as educators and developers is to create virtual learning environments that can be customized to accommodate each teacher’s specific needs.

Digitization of real objects into 3D models is a growing field and includes a range of applications used in the entertainment industry, design, architecture, scientific research, and virtual class rooms. One of the most interesting areas of its application is in the creation of realistic 3D scenes such as virtual reality; however, the creation of reliable and realistic virtual historic landscapes is problematic due to inaccuracies in historic sources, the lack of computerization tools, and poor-defined visualization requirements (Boer 2010). Nonetheless, archaeologists have written on this blog and elsewhere about the use of 3D modeling and scanning for the use of public engagement.

Leica Scan of the Skew Arch at the Allegheny Portage National Historic Site

My MA Thesis at IUP will be to apply 3D modeling tools to historic structures in order to demonstrate the technology’s applications for non-invasive site resource recording. The structures being modeled are located at the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. This railroad became known as the finishing piece of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, marking the first time that there was a direct route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Hailed as a great achievement in early transportation, its use ended during the 1840s and 1850s as America’s rail network developed.

Today, the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site preserves this early railroading experiment that used ten inclines to pull the canal boats over the Allegany Mountains along the 36-mile long corridor that is on the Allegheny Portage Railroads’ historic route. This research will investigate the historic structures located at the highest point of the Portage which includes the historic Lemon House (an historic tavern), Engine House #6, and the Skew Arch Bridge. The goal of this research is to scan the structures and inline at incline and level 6 to provide detailed maps for the NPS. This data will then be used as the basis for creating 3D virtual landscapes of these structures. This project will be one step in developing digital 3D modeling as a new form of historic property documentation and will illustrate how this technology will assist future archaeologists. The information will also provide the NPS with an additional resource of baseline information to more effectively monitor the environmental factors that could affect these significant resources through time.

An Early Version of the Virtual Lemon House at the Allegheny Portage National Historic Site

The Leica Scan Station C10 will be used to create a highly accurate sub centimeter 3D scan of the structures and features at the Alleghany Portage level and incline 6, and create 3D models of the historic structures in a virtual environment. The Leica Scan Station C10 is a pulsed digital laser scanner which can rapidly produce millions of survey points to produce 3D images. The 3D models created from the scans will show a more detailed view of the structures and their placement on the landscape. In addition to aiding the NPS in monitoring their historic resources, this research will provide a case study of the advantages that 3D scanning provides to the preservation community and general public as a rapid non invasive method of recording important historic resources.

Virtual environments engage students by immersing them in the experience.  They can provide students with the opportunity to role play in some of the same ways that historical re-enactments provide students with alternative learning experiences.  The goal is use the natural curiosity that students have to immerse them in a science or history based lesson. Vibe (Virtual Islands for Better Education), (VIBE) is an OpenSim platform developed by the collaboration of schools and educators to create learning tools within a virtual environment.  More details on the virtual worlds developed for educational programs can be found in a recent article, “Three Virtual Environment Platforms that Inspire Learning” by Ann Cudworth, in the November 24, 2013, issue of Hypergrid Business, the Magazine for Enterprise users of Virtual Worlds.

Toogood, Anna Cox
1973  Historic Resource Study:  Alleghany Portage Railroad National Historic Site Pennsylvania

Zitzler, Paula A.
2001 Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Archaeology of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. Manuscript on File, Archaeological Services, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Top 10 Public Archaeology opportunities at SHA 2014

Interested in Public Education and Interpretation?  The 2014 conference is chock-full of opportunities to learn, share, and experience Public Archaeology firsthand.  Here’s my top 10 recommendations for sessions to join or meetings to catch.

1.  Attend JOIN SHA’s Public Education and Interpretation Committee!

Committee meetings are scheduled for Friday morning at 8 am.  The PEIC will be meeting in the Courville Room at the Hilton Quebec.  On the agenda: introductions and what projects SHA members initiated over the past year, recap of SHA’s participation in the Archaeology Education Clearinghouse and attendance at National Council of Social Studies in St. Louis, and an update on the Public Archaeology Toolbox.

If you can’t make it for the meeting, join the conversation on Twitter @FPANlive that morning or email me at semiller@flagler.edu for future committee updates.

2.  Municipal Archaeology (Thursday 8:30 Room 301B)

All municipal archaeology programs owe their existence to public engagement.  The session includes overview of several municipal programs from the US (St. Augustine, Phoenix, New York City) and multiple cities in Quebec and Ontario.  Tours, exhibits, heritage tourism, and public excavation are just some of the many public benefits of these programs.

3. PechaKucha!  (Friday 1:30 Room 207)

One of the things I’m most excited to see is “My Research in a Nutshell.” PechaKucha is a presentation style where the speaker selects 20 slides and must confine comment to only 20 per slide.  PechaKucha Nights have popped up all over the country as a fun, informal way to communicate ideas, projects, or creative works.  I’m curious to see the different ways the students are successful in interpreting their findings for the conference but will keep my potential public audiences in mind.  Come observe, then challenge yourself to sign up for your local group.  For example, St. Augustine just started a PechaKucha Night series last year (check out their webpage) and I’m looking to get on the 2014 roster.

PechaKecha in action!

4.  Community Archaeology for the 21st C (Friday 3:30 Room 205B)

Joe Hoyt of NOAA organized this session to highlight collaboration between professional archaeologists and avocational divers to study WWI and WWII shipwrecks off North Carolina’s coast. The session culminates with a roundtable discussion between Hoyt, John Bright of the National Park Service, Fred Engle of Battle of the Atlantic Research and Expedition Group, and Brandi Carries of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.  I’ll be listening especially to the outreach products that resulted from the survey, particularly creation of a documentary and integration of cultural resources into scuba training as mentioned in the abstracts.

5.  Public Archaeology Panel (Saturday 1:30 Room 207)

Public archaeology issues are best expressed by deliberation.  An international panel organized by grad students Nicole Bucchino (FPAN-UWF), Jennifer Jones (ECU) and Jenna Copin (CUNY) brings together PubArch veterans to discuss their experiences for grad students.  Lively debate is ensured with the participation of incoming SHA President Charles Ewen (ECU) on the panel, as well as representatives from Thunder Bay (NOAA), NPS, Cayman Islands, and consulting firms.

6.  Posters! (Friday 12:20 Room 200)

Poster abstracts recently became available and I can see several public archaeology offerings in the hall.

  •  “Sharing the Sweet Life: Public Archaeology in Practice at a historic Louisiana sugar mill” poster by Matt McGraw, Rebecca McLain and Veberal Clement of LSU promises to highlight Facebook page, student blog, site tours, displays and media coverage.
  • “Black Experiences within the Field of Archaeology” by Ayana Flewellen (UT at Austin) and Justin Dunnavant (UF), will highlight progress from the Society of Black Archaeologists Oral History Project and touch on themes that arose through the interview process.  What a great resource to consult for upcoming talks, including but not limited to those requested during Black History Month.
  • Blackwater Maritime Heritage Trail poster by Benhamin Wells (UWF) will focus on a heritage tourism approach to interpretation.  Focus on maritime resources and how to overcome the challenge of sharing these sites with the public.

7.  New Acadia Project (Friday 4:15 Room  302B)

Mark Rees’ paper on Public Archaeology and Mythistory caught my eye.  The role of the archaeologist in exploring mythistory of Cajuns intrigues me, as well as use of crowdsourcing to fund the project.  This paper is part of a larger session on Archaeologies of Acadia: From Homeland to Diaspora.

8. Archaeologies of Memory and Identity (Friday 1:15 Room 206A)

Cross-cultural meanings of place and places of meaning will be presented with the intention of challenging us to use ethnographic approach in our work.   Patty Jeppson and Jed Levin are two of my PubArch favorites who always bend my brain to think in new ways.  Outside the US and Canada, this session will include papers from Australia, England, Portugal, Japan and the Canary Islands.

9. Community Education and Public Engagement (Saturday 3:30 Room 206A)

After you’ve had a chance to experience #10 (don’t peek!) come over to Room 206A and hear a variety of papers representing multiple approaches to public archaeology: social media, success of swag, hands-on excavation, avocational programs and archaeology months.  I’m particularly excited to hear from Archaeo-Quebec, an organization that looks similar to my own network.  Reading their abstract led me to looking up their website to learn more.    

10.  Last but not least….PUBLIC DAY!!!  Pleins Feux sur l’archaeology!!

Come see archaeology interpreted for the public Quebec style!  Each SHA public day is truly unique and I never lack for ideas to share (okay steal) after perusing the exhibit hall.  For a flavor of public day you can check out my blog last year from Leicester.  Full description of events available on the conference website.

Event Flier

Didn’t see your paper or poster?  Add it in the comments below!  And don’t forget to follow conference happenings on Twitter using the #SHA2014 and #PubArch hashtags.

Unless stated, all events take place in the Convention Center.  Refer to program for end times and full session descriptions.  While I took French for 9 years (yes, 9!) I’m obviously limited in my review of the abstracts submitted en francais.

Mes excuses à nos colleages francophones!  Si vous donnez un document de l’archéologie publique et je manqué, s’il vous plaît envoyer ci-dessous et je vais vous acheter une bière!

It Takes a Village to Build a Trail

by Jennifer McKinnon

When I think back on the experience of building a maritime heritage trail, probably much like others who have worked on public or community projects, I get nostalgic about all of the friends and colleagues I met during the process. The old adage about it taking a village to raise a child also rings true for community projects such as heritage trails – it really does “take a village to build a trail.”

Community projects by their very nature are incredibly complicated, but can be infinitely rewarding. In a community as diverse as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), any project leader must understand that there are multiple voices to be heard and incorporated. This can be learned the hard way or the hard way. What I mean by the hard way is that no amount of research can prepare one for the diversity in meaning and importance of heritage to a community; one member has a completely different understanding of a shared bit of heritage from the next member. And it is important to incorporate as many of those voices as possible.

First training in underwater archaeology held in the CNMI.

This is the task that I set about doing six years ago when I stood in front of a crowd in a smoky little restaurant that consisted of both divers (there to see my presentation on heritage trails) and an angry group of fishers (there to see a second presentation about a national monument which was set to restrict their access to fishing and thus their livelihood). What I found that night was a community so passionate about their right/heritage of fishing and opposed to more official colonial platitudes and restrictions. What I learned that night was two things: first, that no matter how well-funded, presented or shiny an idea is, if a community isn’t behind it, it has no worth; and second, the CNMI community was one with a long history of struggling with outsiders and outside ideas, and if progress was to be made, the idea should be locally generated. To this day these two lessons have held true to form and earned friendships and collegial relationships that will last a lifetime, not to mention some great research projects.

The idea for developing a heritage trail was conceived by staff at the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) and shared with me when I first visited the island in 2007.  Though originally aiming to build a Spanish colonial research agenda, I was quickly taken by the incredibly diverse and intact heritage related to the WWII Battle of Saipan. With a little friendly persuasion from the HPO, I found myself in conversations about mapping, preserving and interpreting submerged WWII sites which included planes, tanks, shipwrecks and assault vehicles of both Japanese and US forces. The idea to apply for a National Park Service Battlefield Protection Grant launched a one year grant awarded to Ships of Exploration and Discovery Research, which eventually turned into a four year project (and has now moved inland). After holding several public meetings and discussing the trail with various stakeholders (dive shops, boat operators, government agencies, humanities groups, visitor’s authority, etc.) the trail began to take shape. Sites were chosen based on stakeholder and public interest, the history and archaeology was researched with an inclusive approach (including Chamorro, Carolinian, US, Japanese, and Korean groups) and products were carefully researched so as to reach the widest audience possible (all ages and divers and non-divers alike). In addition, since a focus on sustainability was key, the project included both heritage awareness trainings for end users and a conservation survey and management plan (funded by a second Battlefield Grant) that collected baseline data for the HPO.

The interpretive products that make up the trail include nine waterproof dive guides and four double-sided posters in both English and Japanese; a 2D and 3D interpretive film for the National Parks on Guam and Saipan (produced in conjunction with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center, and Windward Media); and a website which includes information about the Battle and submerged heritage sites.

Poster from the WWII Battle of Saipan Maritime Heritage Trail.

But let me come back to the idea of it taking a village…the entire project from concept to completion would not have been possible if it were not for the interest of the local community. At every step of the way agencies and volunteers were not just included, but critical to the work. HPO conceived of the idea and several staff members assisted with recording the sites and conducting historical research; they also participated in training, first as trainees (Underwater Archaeology Training) and then trainers (Heritage Awareness Diving Seminar). Coastal Resources Management (CRM) provided in-kind support through the use of boats, fuel and the assistance of staff (i.e. captains, enforcement officers and biologists), as well as participating in and providing instruction during the training sessions. In fact, one CRM employee was so devoted to the project, he took vacation days so that he could participate in the field work! CRM also initiated a program to place moorings on the trail sites in order to minimize impact by visitors. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provided in-kind support by offering boats, captains and expertise. CNMI Council for the Humanities promoted the project to the public by sponsoring public lectures and radio programs. NPS American Memorial Park hosted events such as public lectures, trainings and film viewings. Marianas Visitors Authority provided useful visitor and diving statistics in the planning process. In addition to the government agencies, private individuals hosted barbeques, provided in-kind support for hiring vessels, volunteered to conduct field work and historical research, provided translation services, gave local tours, set up interviews with family members, lent vehicles, and generally treated us as family.

CRM employee David Benavente working underwater.

From 2007 to the present I’ve had the privilege (and I do mean privilege) of working with the community/village of Saipan to record and research their maritime history from their colonization of the island some 3500 years ago to the more recent and tragic conflict of WWII. But I suspect there will be many, many years to come because like a snowball rolling down hill, interest builds momentum and once a village gets excited, who knows what may come of it…

So what are your experiences with creating trails or working with a village (community)? In what ways was the success of your project the immediate result of community input and assistance? Do you think the rewards of working with a community outweigh the complexity of the process?