Virtual Archaeology: Re-Creating Ancient Worlds

Article excerpt

Virtual Archaeology: Re-creating Ancient Worlds. Maurizio Forte and Alberto Siliotti, eds. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

This handsome and impressive volume is Judith Toms's British English translation of an Italian publication Archeologia: percorsi virtuali nelle civi lascomparse (Milan: Arnoldo Montadori Editore, 1996). Edited by Maurizio Forte (a researcher in the disciplines of information sciences and archaeology from Pisa, Italy) and Alberto Siliotti (the director of the Archaeological Documentation Center located in Verona, Italy), the work includes more than 60 separate contributions (each with a modest but excellent and up-to-date bibliography) prepared by 36 authors affiliated, in the main, with academic institutions and museums located in Italy or France. Fifteen British and American scholars assisted with the English-language edition. The significance of the volume may be measured by the distinguished foreward provided by Colin Renfrew, Master of Jesus College and Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University. Renfrew's irrefutable stature in the archaeological community is powerful evidence that this book is, indeed, something special, since a scholar of his caliber does not associate his name with works that are less than stellar.

A reader's initial impression might be that this volume is a popular, lavish, and decorative "coffeetable" treatise on selected archaeological sites and topics-one perfect for intellectual pursuits on a cold winter's day in front of the family fireplace. However, in reality, the book entices two categories of patrons-those interested in the romance of archaeology and an academic audience. This an innovative and refreshing scholarly work that that professors of archaeology and other educators from many other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities may find stimulating as a point of departure for sociocultural interpretations and cultural reconstructions. The intent of this unique work is to present a "startling real sense" of how significant archaeological sites around the world once appeared by combining aerial photography and high-resolution three-dimensional computer renderings emended with clear, informative site descriptions. The text considers more than fifty important sites and includes 660 illustrations in full color. Your reviewer, who has taught New and Old World archaeology for nearly twenty years, has personally visited about half of the sites or cultures selected by the editors, and can provide an objective basis for analysis.

The senior editor writes that the object of this book is "to offer to the reader the most faithul re-presentation of the ancient world possible: highly realistic in information and with a high scientific content. The common thread of its chapters is the new directions being opened up by the conjunction of archaeological research and technology" (10). The book goes well beyond Paul Reilly's article "Towards a Virtual Archaeology" (1991) in that computer processing, simulation, and reconstruction ("re-presentation" is, indeed, the more advisable term) are blended. Some of the images are illustrated through the use of a new computer graphics language, Virtual Reality Mark-up Language (VRML), which describes three-dimensional objects and permits the user to move from texts to three-dimensional spaces and vice versa. It is a powerful graphics tool that opens up new possibilities for manipulating multimedia data in three-dimensional form whereby information/objects may be rotated, moved, and observed from any angle. The technique of visualizing three-dimensional space via hypermedia links will, in the near future, allow graphics, images, and text to be available in VRML format. In addition, it will be possible to modify these virtual images as new data becomes available. However, while these computer-aided reconstructions are unique, they form only a small portion of the copious illustrations; therefore, I would not characterize the volume as "an atlas of archaeological models" as Renfrew has done. …