2020 has been a year of challenges and change, to say the least. As we prepare for an online Fall semester, it’s clear that COVID-19 has radically changed the way we are teaching and learning across all disciplines. Archaeology, being such a hands-on discipline, is, I think, facing some especially difficult existential crises as we move forward with “what to do” in an online format. Foremost among these crises is the issue of how we will convert our archaeology lab classes into meaningful online courses.
I am thankful that the CSU and SDSU have taken a forward-looking stance, making the decision to go online quickly and offering us excellent paid training over the summer to help us with the transition. That said, the module that was supposed to help me with transitioning my lab classes online was, shall we say, lackluster. I was particularly frustrated with the lack of any attention paid to the need to transition social science labs and practicals to immersive online modalities where students can get a reasonable simulacrum of the actual feel of doing archaeology. The lack of respect for the social sciences as science is definitely an ongoing and perennial issue (we’ll keep fighting the good fight as best we can!), but what is especially annoying right now is that while there are a lot of tools available for remote or virtual STEM lab education, most of these tools are pretty useless for social scientists.
While there has been some great recent news about virtual reality excavation/analysis platforms, these are almost all either proprietary or are currently limited for use by students at the institution that created them. So tantalizingly close(!), but still so far away; these amazing immersive learning tools are just not really available yet for broad-scale education in archaeology. So what shall we do, considering that we need tools that are available right now? I think the best hope we have is to try to capitalize on publicly available 3D digital models of artifacts and sites, general virtual reality experiences of ancient or historic sites (often from the tourism industry), and a handful of computational simulation models that can be run in a browser. In this blog post, I am collecting links to a variety of resources I’ve found in these three1 realms:
- Sketchfab is the first place to look for a large collection of archaeological sites and many artifacts scanned in 3D.
- MayaArch 3D has many Maya sites and artifacts in 3D
- Archaeology Southwest has scanned many sites in Arizona in 3D.
- Despite the shady way in which many of the artifacts in the British Museum were originally obtained, at least they’ve scanned many of them and made them available online.
- The Smithsonian has some artifacts scanned in 3D and some 3D scans from Jamestown, Engare Sero (human footprints), and the Inka Road
- MorphoSource from Duke University has over 75,000 3D scans of animal bones, many from famous archaeological sites.
- Open Aerial Map has many photomosaics/3D drone landscapes available, some of which are from archaeological landscapes.
- A good recent overview paper of how to use VR in archaeological training is Virtual and Augmented Reality in Public Archaeology Teaching, by Kate Ellenberger (2017)
- Virtual Angkor is a 3D virtual reality simulation of Angkor Wat in its heyday.
- Virtual Rosewood is one of the first and most well-known archaeological VR sims. Rosewood, FL, was a largely African American town destroyed by a race riot in 1929.
- CyArk has the best collection of 3D-scanned archaeological sites with Virtual Reality overlays:
- A Google Street Maps virtual tour of Petra and the Great Pyramids at Giza
- Archaeology Travel has assembled a few virtual tours of famous sites.
- History View has many virtual tours of historical and archaeological sites and museums around the world.
- For online instruction with simulation models, Netlogo will be our savior. You can export HTML versions of any NetLogo model that can be hosted on your Dropbox or your website or run remotely in a browser for your students.
- COMSES has several NetLogo (and other) simulation models of past human societies and human behavior. Here’s an example of the diet-breadth model written by Michael Barton that I have hosted on this site.
Have you got a link to a resource that you think should be added here? Feel free to use the disqus comments below, or e-mail me directly so that I can add it.
I don’t want people to think that I’ve forgotten about, or am ignoring, open data portals like tDAR or OpenContext. Open data are incredibly important, and obviously can and should be used to provide datasets for certain lab activities. This post is focused more on interactive tools for experiential learning. The kinds of things that we could use to replace in-person labs with real artifacts, etc. ↩