Virtual Reality brings the past to life

Technology will allow us to reconstruct and explore ancient worlds, adding to our understanding of history.

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360 degree image of the Odeon of Agrippa, a late 1st century BCE Athenian agora, from the stage

By Simon Young, The University of Melbourne

Welcome to the virtual reality revolution that is transforming our experience of archaeology and our past. Archaeology has always had a glamorous reputation; you only have to think of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But archaeological work is deeply unglamorous, involving patient sifting and digging of outwardly boring looking stonework and soil layers, matched with precise measuring and more measuring.

University and museum shelves are burgeoning with the fruit of more than a century of archaeological labour laid out in journal articles, monographs and books that usually only other archaeologists consult.

But with the same attention to detail that is the hallmark of an archaeologist, we can now transform this data into an accurate three dimensional experience that can engage the public and even extend our knowledge, as 3D structures allow archaeologists to better understand how these buildings functioned and what questions are unanswered.

That same unglamorous work is exactly how my colleagues and I have constructed Arenès de Lutèce in 3D. Fifteen years ago it would have been beyond the means of humble archaeologists. A standard virtual reality setup would have cost about $80,000. But today, we can experience high quality virtual reality with nothing more than a smartphone and Google Cardboard, which costs about $15.

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