Category: mary-harrsch

Aztec Pantheon Exhibit at the Getty: was Mesoamerica Won Through a ‘Just War’?

Aztec Eagle Warrior, Terracotta, 1440-1469. CONACULTA-INAH-MEX  foto zab. Reproduction authorized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History.Scholars often refer to cultures who used monumental architecture for political purposes as a ‘theater-state’ and boy could the Aztecs put on a good show! When the Spanish conquistadors first glimpsed Tenochtitlan at its zenith in 1519, the Mexica capital and its suburbs surrounding Lake Texcoco was home to over a million inhabitants whose lives were punctuated by numerous festivities centered around amphitheaters and religious shrines scattered across the city.

It is no wonder then, that the Spanish, many of whom were natives of Extremadura, a province of western Spain that was once a part of Roman Lusitania and birthplace of the Roman emperor Trajan, instantly made the connection with classical Rome. Their own homeland was littered with the remains of Roman theaters, amphitheaters, temples and villas. It is this perceived association of Aztec civilization with classical antiquity that is explored in the exhibit The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire now on display at the Getty Villa through July 5, 2010.

Right of Conquest by Just War

The conquistadors encounters with the peoples ruled by the ninth tlatoani, Motecuhzoma II Xocoyotzin, coincided with Renaissance Europes rediscovery of classical antiquity, so Spanish conquistadors and missionaries alike frequently viewed Aztec culture through the prism of Greco-Roman history, philosophy, and law. Although Christianity permeated Spanish society and religious beliefs during this period, the inhabitants of the ‘New World’ were not referenced in the Bible so were considered outside the conditions of salvation. The court of Charles V, the then Holy Roman Emperor, decided the Aztecs should be ruled by the laws of antiquity.

“Classical history and philosophy were drafted to define the relationship between Spain and its New World subjects…”

Of these edicts, the most important was the legal principle of de jure belli, or right of conquest by just war. Strangely, this justification for the Spanish conquest was put forward by a Dominican priest, Francisco de Vitoria (about 1485 – 1546), sometimes referred to as the ‘father of international law’. Although this would appear to be the promotion of secular interests, Vitoria actually did insist that the indigenous peoples possessed essential rights, although he condemned their practice of human sacrifice. However, Vitoria, recalled the Romans invoked the principle of causa sociorum et amicorum (for the sake of allies and friends) to justify much of their territorial expansion and it was approved as lawful by both Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas so prosecution of a war against the peoples of the New World was likewise just:

By 1519, the Children of Quetzalcoatl (the confederacy of nobles that dominated southern Mexico) had been subjected to seventy-five years of nearly continuous warfare with the Empire of the Triple Alliance. Surrounded and cut off from allies and from their sacred pilgrimage center of Cholula, the Tlaxcalteca faction of the confederacy complained to Cortes that they had suffered so many privations in their efforts to withstand the Mexica that they lacked such basic commodities as salt.

(from The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire by John M.D. Pohl and Claire L. Lyons).

Framing this as a plea from friendly allies, Vitoria insisted that the acquisition of territories that resulted from this conflict was therefore a right of such a war.

Understanding the Florentine Codex

The Aztec gods depicted in Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espaa (General History of the Things of New Spain), 1575 - 1577. Courtesy of Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Italy, FI 100 Med.Palat. 218. Using Roman parallels, the missionaries, who began arriving in the New World in 1523, began to associate Aztec heroes and dieties with their classical counterparts. These parallels were formalized by a Franciscan friar, Fray Bernadino de Sahagun, into a record commonly known as the Florentine Codex.

Several pages of the Codex are included in the exhibit. Sahagun firmly believed that he could not truly convert the Aztec soul unless he learned everything he possibly could about their life, language and beliefs and then convert the noble sons and train them for the priesthood.

The Franciscans established the first university in the New World, the Colegio de Santa Cruz, in 1536 at Tiatelolco and it was there that Sahagun taught Latin, rhetoric, philosophy and theology to his indigenous students. I was surprised to read exhibit displays explaining that Virgil’s Aeneid was actually one of the most popular texts in the New World. Apparently, Sahagun compared the fall of the city of Tula, home to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, to the fall of Troy and pointed out to his students how Aeneas’ wanderings after the fall of Troy resembled the wanderings of Quetzalcoatl who would later found Cholula that, like Rome, became the largest pilgrimage and mercantile center in the western civilized world.

Bird Artefacts of the Aztecs

I also noticed when I read the chapter on Origins and Growth of the Aztec Empire in the exhibit’s accompanying text that the Chichimec tribes, the last of the tribes to become known as the Mexica, supposedly originated from a mountain with seven caves – sort of the inverse of Rome with its seven hills. In fact the word ‘Aztec’ was derived from the native word ‘Aztlan’, the name for the sacred place of origin translated as ‘Place of the White Heron’.

Birds played an important role in the symbology of Mesoamerica. I was surprised to learn from the exhibit that feather Roman Imperial Eagle, Bronze, 100-300 A.D. Image courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California.workers were considered nobility in the Aztec social order – not merely craftsmen. Of course the eagle is the most revered of birds since it is recognized as the messenger between the sun god and humankind much as the imperial eagle was associated with Zeus in Roman mythology.

The exhibit included a magnificent Roman bronze eagle (100-300 A.D.) that is part of the Getty Villa‘s permanent collection. Even though I have visited the Getty three times, I had never seen this wonderful specimen and urged an assistant curator to leave the eagle on permanent display after the touring exhibit ends. He told me it had been displayed for many years before the Getty Villa underwent it’s recent rennovation.

Also on display was a beautifully detailed basalt eagle Cuauhxicalli – an Aztec vessel in which sacrificed human hearts were cremated, transforming the residue into an ethereal gift that was symbolically delivered to the god Tonatiuh. The huge vessel was found in the Templo Mayor and is exquistely detailed.

I was also very impressed by a terracotta effigy of an eagle warrior that was found near the Templo Mayor in the House of the Eagles (circa 1440-1469). Warfare was used as a means for social promotion in Aztec Society and young men aspired to become members of elite military orders. Each time a young warrior captured a prisoner, who would later be sacrificed, they would be rewarded with gifts from the emperor that often included feathered battle ornaments. I thought it was interesting that to become an Aztec ‘ace’ you had to capture six prisoners instead of our definition of five for our military pilots.

Relics of the Theatre-state

Mixed Media Sculpture of an Aztec Leopard Warrior wielding a<br /> macuahuitl by American artist George Stuart. Image courtesy of the<br /> Historical Figures Foundation, Ojai, California.The exhibit also included a sacrificial stone on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This particular stone was engraved with symbols similar to those that appear on the famous Aztec calendar stone. Although Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto depicted the Maya culture, I couldn’t help but envision the scene where one of the hero’s friends is draped over such a stone and has his beating heart ripped from his chest.

Another piece that made me shiver was a terracotta figurine of the Aztec Flayed God Xipe Totec found in Tepexi el Viejo from the Museo Regional de Puebla. Ironically, an agricultural fertility god, Xipe Totec, presided over festivals in which noble captives were pitted against warriors dressed as eagles and jaguars armed with a macuahuitl, a wooden sword embedded with razor sharp obsidian blades.

The prisoners were only given simple wooden clubs to defend themselves. The description of these gladiatorial-type contests reminded me of bouts in the Roman arena. Only in Rome if you fought valiantly you may win your freedom and a rudus – a wooden sword symbolzing your accomplishment. In the Aztec version, the injured captives were ultimately sacrificed, skinned and their hides used as priestly garments for the festival afterward.

A ten-paneled screen depicting the traditional view of the conquest of Mexico spread across the back wall of the exhibit. It was painted between 1630 and 1700. Contrary to what I had learned as a child, I discovered the imperial leadership, termed huey tlatoani, was actually an elected position, although preference was given to royal brothers and nephews. I also found out that the explanation given for the Aztec defeat by a handful of Spaniards – that the Aztecs thought Cortes and company were Quetzelcoatl and his followers – is now thought to be a revisionist myth. The Spaniards with their Amerindian allies actually numbered over 150,000 – a quite formidable force.

However, Motecuhzoma II was not intimidated by the Spaniards, their allies or their technology. Native historians said Motecuhzoma II sent ambassadors to meet Cortes and present him with the raiment of four gods, interpreted by Europeans as bestowing divine recognition on the new arrivals. But modern scholars offer a different explanation. They point out that the year 1519 corresponded to 1 Reed of the Aztec calendar, a year sacred to the god Quetzalcoatl. When Cortes donned the costume of Quetzalcoatl, the banished god in Aztec folklore, Cortes served as a public call to arms for the threat he represented. Scholars also note that Aztecs were known to offer ritual dress to foreign dignataries against whom they intended to wage war so this act of ritual theater was intended to demonstrate Motecuhzoma’s superior authority, not a display of superstitious vulnerability.

The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire exhibition is at the Getty Villa until 5th July 2010.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Take Shortcut to Athens via Nashville Parthenon

This replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee was originally built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.The cast and crew of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief didn’t have to go all the way to Athens to film the hydra scene in the Parthenon. They just booked some time in a reconstruction of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennesse. Perhaps in the future, as the role of CGI increases in movies, they will be able to use a virtual version. I visited the Nashville Parthenon, as well as Second Life’s virtual reconstruction, to find out what the Parthenon of Athens was really like in the time of the ancient Greeks.

The Nashville Parthenon

I know, most people think of Nashville as home of the Grand Ole Opry and the country music capital of the world, but people there also have a taste for the classics! The Parthenon in Nashville is a full-scale replica of the original in Athens. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Apparently, Nashville was once known as the “Athens of the South”, a title which influenced the construction of the replica for the fair.

The original replica was built of plaster, wood and brick but was replaced by concrete construction that began in 1920. The exterior was completed in 1925 and the interior was finally finished in 1931. In 1990, sculptor Alan LeQuire, a native of Nashville, recreated the 42-foot statue of Athena Parthenos to add to its interior. The statue of Athena is gilded with eight pounds of gold leaf.

The Goddess Athena Parthenos was recreated in 1990. The statue of Athena was not installed until 100 years after Nashville's Parthenon was constructed for an 1897 exposition celebrating Tennessee's first century of statehood. Sculptor Alan LeQuire, a Nashville native, adorned this statue with eight pounds of gold leaf. Photograph by Mary Harrsch.The structure, now the centerpiece of Centennial Park, houses an art museum that contains casts of the original Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles. In the summer, local theater troupes present classic Greek plays such as Euripides’ Medea and Sophocles’ Antigone. Most performances are free.

To view my entire tour of the Parthenon in Nashville, play the slideshow below. If you view the slideshow in full screen mode, you can click “Show Info” to view titles and descriptions to learn more.

The Parthenon in Second Life

If you can’t make it to either Athens or Nashville, you can find a recreation of the Parthenon and several other Greek landmarks in Second Life. You can even visit a virtual armour museum and climb aboard a Greek war galley!

The Second Life reconstruction I visited was created by Second Life user Noyle Boucher. As you can see by these images, the virtual Parthenon is brightly painted (as it was in ancient times!) and contains its own towering statue of Athena. Like the physical replica in Nashville, you can also climb steps to an observation gallery that brings you closer to Athena’s face and the statue of Nike (winged Victory) that she holds in the palm of her hand. I was also delighted to find that her shield includes sculptured scenes like those I had seen on the shield of the Athena Parthenos in Nashville.

Approaching a virtual replica of the Parthenon in Second LifeI also visited Boucher’s reconstruction of the Erechtheion. The temple, built between 421 and 407 BC, is thought to have been named for the shrine of the famous Greek hero Erichthonius but others think it was built in honor of the legendary king Erechtheus, who ruled Athens during the Archaic period and was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad.

On the north side of the structure is the famous ‘Porch of the maidens’. Roman architect Vitruvius claimed the maidens on the porch of the Erchtheion, known as caryatids, represented women from the village of Kary, a town near Sparta in Laconia, who were condemned to slavery after betraying Athens by siding with Persia in the Greco-Persian Wars.

Scholars point out, however, that this is doubtful since supports depicting young women were used before the outbreak of the Greco-Persian Wars. Priestesses of Athena or Artemis used to carry sacred objects to feasts in baskets on their heads. Therefore, some scholars think these maidens represent such priestesses of Artemis in Kary. I managed to use the flying navigation control to position my avatar next to the virtual caryatids to get a great screenshot.

To view my entire Greek adventure in Second Life, play the slideshow below. If you view the slideshow in full screen mode, you can click “Show Info” to view titles and descriptions to learn more.

You can see the remains of temples on the Acropolis as they appear today in Google Earth, or take a visit to the real site. For more virtual reconstructions, check out Heritage Key’s virtual areas, including King Tut Virtual, and Stonehenge.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is Dripping With Blood, Gore and Sex

 Blood and Sand stars Australian Andy Whitfield in the title role.“To get attention these days to penetrate the market, you’ve got to be pretty outrageous and prepared to go there!” exclaims Lucy Lawless, one of the stars of the new STARZ miniseries Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

After watching ten episodes of the new series, I would have to agree that the word “outrageous” was one that certainly popped into my head! I had read that the network executives at STARZ had told series producers that they wanted a production with more sex and violence than any network had ever produced and from the looks of things, they pretty much got what they asked for.

In just the first episode, the production team must have had to order fake blood by the tanker truck load as body parts flew in every direction with each violent encounter. At one point, Spartacus finishes off a retiarius, who has had both of his legs hacked off, with his trident while the man pitifully attempts to crawl away. So much blood flew up it drenched the camera lens. At that point, though, instead of being horrified by the stylized screen violence, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. After all, a trident is a puncture weapon, not a blade, so, although it is truly lethal, it would hardly have produced any blood spatter at all. Still, even in that first over-the-top effects-laden episode, I saw glimpses of a plot and the beginnings of character development that had the potential to intrigue me even if the Romans, who I admire very much for many aspects of their culture, were so unconditionally villified.

I also must give the series credit for including at least a nod to historical sources in regards to Spartacus’ origins. Ancient sources tell us that Spartacus was once an auxilliary officer in the Roman Army and at some point he ran afoul of his Roman commanders and was subsequently sold into slavery.

The series begins with his service to the Romans. His Roman commander is brutally ambitious, and, driven on by an even more ambitious wife, foresakes Spartacus’ village during a fierce battle with the Getae to seek the more politically profitable conquest of Mithradates farther east. Spartacus refuses direct orders to abandon his tribesmen (and wife) and, when the Romans try to force Spartacus and his comrades to march east, the confrontation ends in the deaths of several Roman officers and the near-death of the Roman legatus. Spartacus returns to his village only to find it destroyed but he is reunited with his wife, however briefly, before the Romans capture him and send him back to Italy for execution. This scenario is quite plausible and could have been not far from the actual events although we have no details in the ancient sources.

Spartacus is apparently sentenced to death in the arena where he and a couple of his comrades are pitted against trained gladiators without protective armour and with the full expectation that they will die ignobly. His two comrades fight valiantly but are no match for the highly skilled gladiators and die (with intentionally graphic violence) in fairly short order. Spartacus is knocked about and slashed quite viciously but has a vision of his wife, a prophetess among their people (also historically accurate – the ancient sources tell us she was a priestess of the god Dionysos), telling him to “kill them all”. Emboldened by his vision, Spartacus begins to fight like an historical beserker and the gladiators quickly become beheaded or bivisected.

Watching the carnage is Batiatus, a lanista (gladiatorial school owner) of a once famous ludus in Capua. Batiatus’ family has apparently fallen on hard times and he is desperately struggling to regain past glory. He recognizes a prime opportunity in the purchase of Spartacus.

Batiatus is played by John Hannah. He is probably best known for his comedic capers in The Mummy series of movies with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weiz. He played a treacherous Roman senator in the film The Last Legion but after film editing, most of his performance ended up on the cutting room floor so he didn’t have much chance to display much depth of character in the brief, almost cameo appearances that remained. In fact, I expressed the opinion at the time that he seemed terribly miscast since I had only seen him in the light-hearted Mummy role. But Hannah’s portrayal of Batiatus showcases his true versatility. He comes across as totally convincing as he revels in the gore of the arena or engages in lustful sex with his wife or any slave girls loitering about the hallways of his home that adjoins the gladiator training grounds.

Batiatus is not a cardboard villain, though. He is a complex character that harbors a twisted sense of honor that motivates him to repay Spartacus for saving his life by agreeing to find and purchase Spartacus’ wife for him but then hire bandits to attack the wagon carrying Spartacus’ wife because he senses Spartacus will not submit to Batiatus’ authority if he has a wife to inspire his desire for freedom. As the series progresses we also learn that he and his wife are childless and long for a family. But, his desire for children of his own does not extend to a compassion for others’ children and families. In one episode he orders one of his gladiators to kill a man in front of the man’s son, a boy of maybe eight years old. Then, without a hint of reluctance he tells the gladiator to get rid of the boy as well. People are obviously disposable commodities to him.

Lawless admitted in a recent interview that she had yet to have to wear a merkin – false pubic hair ordered worn for shots including full frontal nudity.

Most of all, though, Batiatus yearns for respectability that was beyond the scope of lanistas in the Roman social order. In The Spartacus War, professor Barry Strauss points out that the term lanista is compared to the Roman term for butcher (lanius) or pimp (leno). Batiatus’ dreams of wearing senatorial purple are as fantastical as those of one of his gladiators dreaming of buying his own freedom.

Lucy Lawless, of Xena: Warrior Princess fame, plays Batiatus’ wife, Lucretia. In the first few episodes, she is forcefully manipulative but appears to be not quite as corrupt as Batiatus. She also garners a little sympathy since we see how desperate she is for a child. But, as the series continues we discover she can be as ruthless as Batiatus himself. Lawless also does not seem to flinch from appearing nude despite years of experience in a PG-13 program. She admitted, though, in a recent interview, that she had yet to have to wear a merkin – false pubic hair ordered worn for shots including full frontal nudity.

Viva Bianca, who plays Illythia, the villainous wife of the Roman legate that betrayed Spartacus and devious friend of Lucretia, cannot make the same claim, though. She bared all in the first episode and in the latest episode seduces a 15-year-old boy preparing for his coming-of-age ceremony in a steamy bath scene. Her sultry, petulant character has proved to be equal to any male villain introduced so far, although I don’t know what will become of her if Spartacus finally breaks out of the gladiator school. Historically, Spartacus and the 70 gladiators that escaped with him took only a few slave women with them. Of course the series producers can get a little creative and try to retain their lusty female villains as the gladiators’ hostages. They certainly didn’t hesitate to eliminate Spartacus’ prophetess wife early in the series even though in real life she lived to escape the ludus with him and inspire him throughout his campaigns.

Official trailer courtesy of STARZ Entertainment LLC (Mature content. Viewer discretion advised.)

Another actor who seems to have developed his role well is Manu Bennett who plays the gladiator Crixus. Crixus will eventually become Spartacus’ co-commander of the rebel army if STARZ does continue the series as planned after this first 13-episode season. But Crixus and Spartacus are bitter rivals during much of the first season. I think their mano-et-mano conflict would have grown a bit stale except the two men end up pitted against an “unbeatable” brute of a man named Theocles and must learn to fight together or die separately. Crixus is horriblly mangled but manages to help a struggling Spartacus by using a shield to reflect sunlight into Theocles’ eyes at a crucial moment giving Spartacus the opening he needs to survive. Unfortunately, Spartacus is not as appreciative as we would hope – apparently intoxicated by the hero worship of the crowd afterwards. Crixus barely survives and during his long and arduous recovery, is able to build a relationship with one of the slave women who had previously caught his eye. Where once Crixus lectured Spartacus about giving up dreams of freedom outside the ludus and living for the glory of their ludus familia, now Crixus begins to yearn for a family and a life free of the trainer’s whip. Bennett projects a lot of screen magnetism and can easily dominate scenes in which he appears.

Relative newcomer Andy Whitfield generates a lot of intensity in his leading portrayal of Spartacus and handles the physical demands of the role well despite a reported recent diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. One of his best performances is in episode 10 (the last episode I have viewed as of this date) when he is forced to fight his best friend. Whitfield’s face is truly contorted with agony when Spartacus is ordered by a capricious young Roman nobleman to slaughter his friend and it convincingly reflects a depth of despair we had not yet experienced in earlier sequences.

According to my son-in-law, his friends and the active discussion that has cropped up on the internet, STARZ has apparently succeeded in capturing that coveted male demographic they were aiming for. Viewership has climbed to over 1 million by episode 10. I notice on IGN-TV the individual episodes have been ranked from a mediocre 6.0 for the first episode to a strong 8.5 for the latest episodes which coincides with my overall impression that as the series progresses the characters and storyline are proving to be more and more interesting. With audience numbers building, STARZ had planned to begin filming the second season by now. But, production has been temporarily stalled while Andy Whitfield receives treatment in New Zealand for his cancer. Whitfield’s prognosis is good, though, since the cancer was caught in a very early stage, so production should be able to continue in a few months. STARZ has been able to keep production costs down so far by limiting the action to a confined environment . But, if Spartacus finally breaks out of the ludus in season two, producers may be challenged to rein in budgets while staging major battle sequences. Hopefully the series will not suffer the same fate as HBO’s Rome which was cancelled after only two years of a projected five year production schedule because of expenses topping 800,000 per episode.

Will Virtual Reconstruction of Çatalhöyük be Abandoned Due to High Rent Rates in Second Life?

Approaching the introduction panel to virtual Catalhoyuk in Second LifeVirtual atalhyk is one of the most well-researched and painstakingly executed ancient world reconstructions in Second Life. But with the rent due, and funding tight, can the researchers keep the environment alive? I spoke to creator Colleen Morgan about the problems of creating reconstructions for high-rent platforms.

Model Town

Over 9,000 years ago, a group of Neolithic people began to build a mud-brick settlement on a hill overlooking the Konya Plain of Turkey. The structures were placed closely together and the people moved from place to place by accessing the roofs with interior or exterior ladders. Scholars believe communal activities took place on the roofs of the buildings, including the use of communal ovens.

The people of atalhyk plastered their homes and kept them scrupulously clean. Excavators have found little trash among the domiciles. Midden mounds containing refuse and food waste were found outside the village perimeter. The people appeared to have a vibrant spiritual life. Over 2,000 figurines of humans and animals have been found since the site was first unearthed in 1961 by Sir James Mellaart. Murals depicting hunting scenes, wild aurochs, deer and men with erect phalluses embellished the walls within some of the structures.

Analyses of animal remains to determine their age at death indicates that the population fed themselves primarily by hunting, initially supplemented with a few domestic sheep and goats. The archaeological records shows that as time passed, however, more adult animals were kept and cattle remains increased in proportion, perhaps indicating the development of the processing and consumption of dairy products.

The remains of granaries contained wheat, barley and peas and archaeologists have found evidence that almonds, pistachios and fruit were apparently harvested from trees growing along the banks of the Carsamba River.

Potential UNESCO World Heritage Site

Although atalhyk initially received a great deal of international attention following its excavation by Sir James Mellaart in 1961 because of the apparent density of the population center (scholars estimate atalhyk housed up to 10,000 people at its peak) and the unique artwork discovered there, it has only recently been added to the list of sites being considered for designation as World Heritage Sites.

Murals found in Catalhoyuk sometimes depicted vultures and headless human figuresHowever, an international archaelogical team lead by Ian Hodder of Stanford University have revealed a vast amount of information about the site since they reopened the site in 1993. Now, the site has been recreated in Second Life using much of this new information so researchers and the interested public can explore Neolithic life in the ancient Mediterranean basin.

The Open Knowledge and Public Interest research group, (OKAPI), who wished to encourage a “multivocal, reflexive engagement” with current interpretations of Neolithic life drawn from the new finds, invited researchers from the University of California at Berkeley to digitally document a single structure at atalhyk, Building 77, and produce media that could be used not only to enhance the virtual reconstruction of the site but provide additional educational materials about the project.

Twelve faculty and students took up the challenge although few had any formal computer graphics experience. However, their efforts were coordinated by Noah Wittman, Program Manager of the Open Knowledge and the Public Interest Project at UC Berkeley, who had 15 years experience developing technologies, online platforms and social networks.

The Virtual Landlord

The group chose to construct their virtual atalhyk in Second Life and virtual land, dubbed OKAPI Island, was rented from Linden Labs. Students with Photoshop experience and/or experience with Blender or Maya were sought after, although previous computer graphics experience was not a requirement to participate in the project. Snap Z and Screenflow were also used to produce machinama clips of activities within the virtual environment.

One team member, Colleen Morgan, shared her experiences creating virtual atalhyk and integrating artefacts discovered there using the building tools provided by Second Life in the article (Re)Building atalhyk: Changing Virtual Reality in Archaeology, which appeared in the Journal of the World Archaeological Congress in 2009.

Morgan was surprised by how the construction of objects within the virtual environment made her ponder architectural issues that excavation of the actual site had not resolved. She writes:

A researcher's vision of a resident of neolithic CatalhoyukThe in-game creation engine is a modified CAD model, where the user manipulates geometric shapes, adding, subtracting, and piecing together the objects to achieve the desired results. This requires the archaeologist to approach artifacts, architecture, and the landscape from a different perspective; one that requires an additive, accretive process, breaking down the object into component parts instead of viewing excavated materials as a whole.

For example, when I was creating an oven, a persistent and pervasive architectural feature that had been excavated repeatedly at atalhyk, I struggled with the hard linearity of the Second Life building model; in building the square base of the oven I knew that in reality the plaster and mudbrick oven had rounded corners. When adding the roof of the oven, I had to decide how the smoke came out of the top, and how much, a topic that has been extensively debated at atalhyk, as experimental archaeology has proven that smoke from the ovens would quickly fill these windowless, doorless dwellings. The responsibility to interpret the archaeological evidence was in my hands, made concrete by constructing a simple model of an oven. The significance of the observation and accurate interpretation of architectural details became more than an abstract necessity for the archive but a concrete force driving the subsequent gathering of visual materials and hereto unrecognized details that would aid the later implementation of a virtual model.

Forced to Interpret

I spoke with Colleen Morgan about her experience. “As a participant who is generally uninvolved in the final, cooked interpretation of the excavated materials at atalhyk, making these interpretive decisions while recreating the room interior challenged my perceptions of the site, and made me truly engage with some of the questions that as an excavator I had pondered only in passing while filling out my data sheets,” she admitted.

She also pointed out how an object creator can embed descriptions in objects and note any uncertainties in form or function that have been deduced by the archaeologist so visitors have the opportunity to speculate further and not necessarily accept the representation as fact.

“Participation in the past is not limited to a look but do not touch, static, correct model.” Morgan observes. “This changeable, constructed past remains connected with the present day, an active, lived-in place that is part of a continuum.”

I was surprised by Morgan’s disapproval of the use of NPCs (non-player characters) to impart information in virtual environments, though.

Experimental archaeologists are still trying to reconstruct an<br /> oven from Catalhoyuk that does not cause the doorless and windowless<br /> dwellings to fill with smoke“Turning people of the past into mere mouthpieces for their architecture diminishes the rich potential of reconstructions to impart information about complex lifeways,” Morgan states. “Using programmable objects [instead] allows avatars to act as their own guides to the past, populating the re-created ancient landscape with avatars of people interested in the past, interacting with artifacts and taking on roles suggested by these artifacts.”

Perhaps she would reconsider if such NPCs were equipped with a natural language interface and an artificial intelligence engine so information could be imparted by answering a visitor’s questions in a conversational format.

Although work continues for the time being on OKAPI Island in Second Life, the virtual geographic location of the atalhyk reconstruction, Morgan points out major problems surrounding efforts by academics to share their research with each other and the interested public through such creations in Second Life.

“…often these projects are created by academic institutions as a one-off event, launched, and then abandoned. The Sistine Chapel re-created by Vassar in 2007 created a sensation due to the incredible amount of detail employed, but has not been elaborated upon since then, nor does it offer much history or background of the structure. Many of these sites show signs of neglect, much like heritage sites that have been left in disrepair in the real world. Finally, the sustainability of these virtual sites is also questionable, as students graduate, academics shift in interest, and funding runs out. As of 2008, OKAPI island costs $1800 per year for land-use, an expense that cannot be maintained perpetually without significant supporting institutional infrastructure. Objects created in Second Life are generally untranslatable to other platforms, and reconstructions that run out of funding can face serious data loss.”

In addition to her work on OKAPI Island, Morgan has been involved in the digitial documentation of archaeological data for the Presidio in San Francisco. She is now working on an archaeological game with other collaborators in Oakland, California.

As a technology professional with over 20 years of experience in academia, I wholeheartedly agree with Morgan’s assessment of the problems that must be faced by research teams who choose to invest both significant time, effort and ultimately budget to produce historical reconstructions in a commercial environment like Second Life. During my service, I repeatedly witnessed the “one-offs” later abandonded, sometimes within a single academic year, and the closure of entire research units when additional funding was not forthcoming, usually due to a change in political priorities in Washington. The single most financially prohibitive aspect of Second Life is the marketing of infinite virtual real estate as a finite, and very expensive, resource. The outlay of $1800 per year may seem trivial to a large corporate firm (commercial creators are actually charged much more) but it’s a substantial sum to a small, publicly funded research unit. What is even more tragic is the loss of public investment that occurs each time one of these projects is abandoned. Virtual reconstructions based on research represent a cultural legacy as tangible as the archaeological remains on which they are based.

What is needed is a Creative Commons environment structured administratively like Wikipedia with shared models stored in a Wikimedia archive. Virtual “land” should be made freely available to anyone wishing to invest the time to develop it. Raising the ongoing capital to fund the server farms needed to host the environment could be accomplished through a non-profit organization that accepts donations much like Wikipedia does now. Standards could be developed to prevent or mitigate negative human behaviors that invariably accompany communal endeavors and enforced through a volunteer supervisory structure much like Wikipedia uses today to maintain content quality and expunge graffiti.

Another alternative could be a commercially funded environment structured like Blogger where a land account would be freely available and models could be selected for inclusion like page elements are now. A model warehouse much like Google’s warehouse that contains public Sketchup creations could be accessible to either obtain or store models created by system users. An “apps store” could parallel the warehouse for commercial creations that could be purchased with micropayments with the commercial host collecting a percentage of the profits. In-world advertising could be made available to developers much like Google Ad Sense ads are managed today. Associate ads could also provide some compensation to in-world developers for the time and effort spent in the development process much like the system used by bloggers. All developed “islands” could be accessed and navigated if set to “public” permissions just like blogs are today. “Private” islands or “Group” islands could also be created with access managed by the particular in-world developer like group or private blogs are today as well.

At least in this alternative commercial model, content that has already been created would not disappear because of a developer being unable to “pay the rent”! Although no longer tended, the heritage creation should not collect trash if permissions are set properly when grant funding, user attention or sponsorship ends.

Slideshow of my Visit to Virtual Catalhoyuk:

To view the slideshow in full screen visit this link. If you click on Options and check the box to display titles and descriptions you will find out more information about the people who built this interesting neolithic settlement when you click on each image.

Find out more about our virtual worlds here at Heritage Key such as King Tut Virtual and Stonehenge Virtual, or dive right in and start exploring them for yourself. You’re virtually there!

Italy Demands Repatriation of Getty Villa’s Lysippos Statue ‘Victorious Youth’

Victorious Youth, a third century Greek Bronze is thought to be a rare original by Lysippos, sculptor patronized by Alexander the Great.

Once more, the J. Paul Getty collection of antiquities may be depleted due to the repatriation of a 4th century BC bronze called ‘Statue of a Victorious Youth‘ thought to be the work of Lysippos, a Greek sculptor who flourished under the patronage of Alexander the Great.

The work was originally salvaged from the depths of the Adriatic sea near the Italian town of Fano in 1964 by Italian fishermen trawling in international waters. The real irony in the Italian court’s ruling ordering the confiscation of the work from the Getty is that the bronze was probably on its way to Rome after being plundered from a city in Greece between 300 – 100 BC. If the work was truly returned to its country of cultural origin it would be going home to Greece not Italy. This is the point where arguments for and against repatriation get sticky. Just how far back in history do you go to determine the “rightful” owner?

In his essay The Repatriation of Cultural Objects, Leong Yew describes the often “long and troubled history” of artefacts from abroad that are now housed in Western museums or collections. He says:

“Most of these have now come under scrutiny by a burgeoning postcolonial consciousness that their location in these places are inherently problematic. At the same time the claims of ownership by native communities are equally unsettled as issues of the “right” of ownership, the identity of the owner, and the circumscription of global capitalism and modern property law persistently colour these claims. Hence, much like the diasporic peoples around the world, indigenous art – once displaced – becomes caught in in-between hybrid spaces, never fully belonging to the countries that host them or to the places they originated.”

Assessing Cultural Importance

Some of the most impassioned proponents of restitution try to frame their claims in terms of a particular work’s importance to a nation’s cultural heritage. In fact, Article 5(3) of the treaty hammered out by UNIDROIT (International

If the work was truly returned to its country of cultural origin it would be going home to Greece not Italy

Institute for the Unification of Private Law) states that the return of illegally exported cultural objects should be based on factors related to preservation, context, or cultural significance of the object. It further explains that objects should be returned if it is established that the removal of the object from the country of origin significantly impairs one of the following interests: the physical preservation of the object or its context, the integrity of a complex object, the

If the work was truly returned to its country of cultural origin it would be going home to Greece not Italy

preservation of information, the traditional or ritual use of the object, or if it is shown that the object is of significant cultural importance to the requesting state.

It is interpretation of the last issue that has proved problematic in the determination of who should ultimately become the custodian of particular ancient art objects.

“What may at one time have been a tribal religious statue may have existed in a relationship with its native possessors in a way that cannot be articulated outside of modernity and capitalism,” Yew says. “The original communities that possessed the disputed art have become transformed by colonialism and capitalism in varying ways. New sovereign states may have superceded these communities and hybrid notions of ownership – trapped between traditional and modern – may have become the very elements that propel these claims for artistic repatriation.”

You Can’t Repatriate to Greaco-Rome

In the case of the ‘Victorious Youth’, the art itself muddies the waters a bit as well. If you were to take a purist viewpoint, you would support a court ruling returning the bronze to Greece, its actual point of cultural origin if it was not, in fact, a Roman commissioned copy of a Greek original. If it is an original by Lysippos, it represents the cultural heritage of ancient Greece not ancient Italy. If it was a Roman commissioned copy but was produced by Greek sculptors then under the rule of the Roman Republic, interpretation would not be so straightforward. Obviously the

Outer Peristyle Garden at the Getty Villa (8)

original buyer of the work, presumably Roman, is long dead and not traceable, especially since the work was a victim of a maritime mishap and not found in an identifiable archaeological context. But in a modern context, would it be appropriate to rule it representative of Roman culture during the period and therefore of significant cultural importance to Italy or use cultural origin as our guideline and award custody to Greece?

A complicating factor in this case is the transformative effect of Hellenisation on Roman civilization that occurred after the second Punic War. As Greek art, religion and literature were embraced by the Roman elite, much artwork was produced for the Roman market by Greek artisans, both in Greece and by Greeks who immigrated to the burgeoning Republic seeking their fortunes. When that artwork is removed from the context of identified ownership and viewed through the prism of our capitalistic society two millenia later, do we prioritize cultural impact when considering which country will ultimately get to cash in on the cultural tourism an object might produce? After all, despite all the high minded proclamations of preserving cultural heritage, the bottom line is that most of the art is actually viewed by the claimants as simply a revenue source.

The Law on Loot

Furthermore, what if the statue was looted from its original cultural context by the Romans and not legitimately purchased? If the torah from the temple in Jerusalem was found in the excavations of a villa once owned by Vespasian or Titus, I’m sure Israel would be clamoring for its return. How would a Greek statue plundered by a Roman general be any different?

Getty’s compliance with the Italian court order is still speculative. U.S. courts have traditionally ruled favorably for plaintiffs in cases involving restitution of cultural objects. In this case, however, the Italian court is basing ownership on the Italian law of 1939 Regarding the Protection of Objects of Artistic and Historic Interest that claims state ownership of archaeological finds and antiquities found after 1902, not any international treaty, especially since the recovery of the Victorious Youth occurred six years before even the 1970 UNESCO convention developed a treaty governing the import of archaeological and ethnological materials. Furthermore, the find was recovered in international waters, not within the territorial boundaries of Italy.

Basing repatriation on site of discovery has proven to be frought with problems in previous litigation. In the case of The Republic of Lebanon vs. Sotheby’s, a court denied all three claimants to an $80 million Roman hoard.

Lawrence M Kaye, in the essay Art Wars the Repatriation Battle, says: “Although Lebanon dropped out of the case, the introduction of expert and factual testimony by Croatia and Hungary failed to convince a jury that the treasure had been discovered in either countrys territory. As a result, neither could invoke its national ownership law as a predicate to establishing a property right to the treasure.”

Obviously, relying on proof of discovery site is particularly problematic for looted items whose archaeological context has been lost.

Ultimately, the statue will probably become just another piece to secure further agreements between the Getty and the Italian government to guarantee long term loans of significant works of art so art and history lovers of both countries may be enriched through its exhibition and study. I hope so.

Enter the Anti-museum: Why Virtual Experiences Lead to Better Learning

Westworld, starring Yul Brynner, has been one of my all-time favorite movies since it was released back in 1973. Envisioned by Michael Crichton, Westworld was a fictional theme park where tourists could go to experience life in another historical period. The park had a medieval world, a Roman world and, of course, Westworld, a recreation of the old American west.

Each world was populated with carefully programmed androids who behaved as people from each time period would have during their normal daily activities. Guests of the park were given appropriate clothing and instructed to assume the role of a character from the period. The inevitable malfunctions occur, and the droids run amok and gun down real people rather than their fellow robots, with real bullets.

In many ways, Westworld epitomises the kind of immersive, interactive, challenging educational experiences that are available, both physically and virtually, today. Although I’m not suggesting that we all necessarily need to wage war against gun-toting malfunctioning androids in order to learn about our ancient heritage, I do think that the movie illustrates a model of education that we should aspire to.

Fortunately, there are some excellent, and much safer, educational resources out there.

HBO’s Rome Theme Park

But I can’t help wishing I could visit a theme park like that where you not only dress up and take on the persona of someone from the past but interact with others – some play acting like yourself – or a carefully programmed participant who can truly relay the feelings, opinions and ideas of someone who might have lived back then.

I thought I might finally get the chance when I heard that Cinecitta Studios in Rome was going to construct such a theme park using the carefully researched sets that it produced for the filming of the HBO/BBC miniseries Rome. However, it seems there were quite a few locals that envisioned some kind of cheesy “Disneyesque” tourist trap instead and felt strongly that such a venue would demean their heritage.

A blogger at asked what some of you may be thinking is the obvious question, “In a city thats chock-full of amazing experiences from walking on ancient roads to gazing at Michelangelos frescoes on the Sistine Ceiling do we really need to offer visitors a fabricated alternative to seeing Romes amazing art and architecture? Why build a fake Colosseum in a fake ancient Rome when the real thing is there for the taking?”

Well, I think there is a good reason to construct a living history park.

Learning Through Doing

In his theory of cognitive development, Swiss social psychologist Jean Piaget pointed out that people learn by actively constructing and interrelating knowledge and ideas, rather than by simply assimilating facts. Seymour Papert further observed that not only can people learn more “felicitously” by building objects but reinforce their learning by sharing their creations with others. It is these tenets of learning that, I think, have driven the global embrace of Web 2.0 technologies and the social networking revolution.Jean Piaget, proponent of constructivist learning, theorized that authoritative delivery of information in an unequal social setting constrains cognitive development.

These theories indicate that field trips to world heritage sites and museums help to expose students to relics or structures from the past but without the crucial social element of interaction, advanced knowledge acquisition is limited. Furthermore, according to Piaget, exposure to information through authoritative presentations actually constrains cognitive development, precluding individual exploration and authentic forms of intellectual exchange.

“[in an unequal relational environment between a student and an authority figure] …students might feel constrained to simply spit back what the teacher says and memorize what is in source materials, despite only having a superficial level of understanding and even a lack of conviction in what is being repeated.” – Collaborative learning, reasoning, and technology by Angela M. O’Donnell, Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Gijsbert Erkens

However, more in-depth learning can occur in situations where equal participants exchange ideas, consider the positions of others and rationalize their beliefs to themselves and those with whom the experience is shared.

“Lacking an authority figure to tell them what is right and wrong, children must, of necessity, coconstruct courses of action, demonstrations, and explanations. This process is open-ended and potentially more likely to have children become aware of gaps and perturbations [disturbances to their existing understanding] in their efforts.” – Collaborative learning, reasoning, and technology By Angela M. O’Donnell, Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Gijsbert Erkens

Obviously, Piaget studied learning in children, but the basic learning process continues to be used throughout our lifetime. If we accept these principles, then we must admit the shortcomings of depedence on mere exposure to art or architecture as a primary learning tool, especially if it is intended to transmit cultural heritage or values.

Last spring, I attended a wonderful exhibit on Julius Caesar and the late Roman Republic held at the Chiostro del Bramante in Rome. While I was there a number of local school groups of high school-aged students were touring the exhibit with their teachers. As the teachers droned on (for so long, in fact, that one teacher was admonished for holding up other visitors), the students teased each other and basically ignored most of the beautiful art displayed around them. I certainly don’t mean to be critical of Italian students. I have seen the same scenario played out in American museums as well. What a pity that such an opportunity for learning was apparently wasted.

But, how can we introduce the social conditions necessary to stimulate more effective learning in the confines of a secure art gallery or within the fragile limits of an actual ruin? The answer is you can’t unless you construct a more resilient environment – either physically within a constructed living history environment or virtually using navigable 3D graphics with interactive avatars, either human or preprogrammed with natural language artificial intelligence to provide the peer-to-peer interaction needed for authentic learning.

Replica Williamsburg

The proponents of the Roman theme park, however, used Euro-Disney as their example. Local opponents viewed that approach as an Americanization of their culture. Disney is not the example I would have used since it immediately brings to mind cartoon characters and fantasy rather than a respectful approach to cultural history. A much more appropriate example I am familiar with, although still American, is the much more historically authentic Colonial Williamsburg.

In Williamsburg, visitors can walk through authentically-detailed colonial-era structures, eat period food, observe and discuss period-specific activities with reenactor craftsmen like blacksmiths, gunsmiths, wig makers, tailors and apothecaries, take part in legislative debates over colonial-era issues at the courthouse, attend concerts of period music, attend 18th century plays, learn to dance 18th century dances and even take part in an 18th century witch trial. At the nearby colonial military encampment visitors can learn about life in the colonial militia, learn about the weapons of the day and how to use them and watch mock battles and military drills.

From 1699 – 1780 Williamsburg served as the political, cultural, and educational center of what was then the largest, most populous, and most influential of the American colonies. Although the seat of government was eventually moved to Richmond, Virginia, Williamsburg retained many of the structures originally built there. Restoration of the buildings began in 1926, funded by generous donations from philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Rockefeller personally led the restoration effort until his death in 1960. During this time over 80 of the original buildings were preserved and facilities constructed to accomodate the visiting public.

Today, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates as a non-profit educational organization. In addition to preserving and interpreting the historical area, the Foundation operates The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Bassett Hall (the former home of Rockefeller during the restoration period) and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library. The foundation also receives funds for licensed merchandise and reproductions and from for-profit subsidiaries including hotels, restaurants, convention facilities, and golf courses. The Williamsburg Teaching Institute conducts week-long hands-on workshops for teachers to “learn innovative and engaging ways to teach about the past.”

If the Roman history park had been conceptualized along these lines, it could have been presented as a way to augment the existing cultural remnants with an environment to further enhance the learning experiences Rome offers. Although Williamsburg’s 1 million visitors a year is dwarfed by Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando (which lures in over 17 million visitors per year), a more educational venue like Williamsburg would definitely be less culturally intrusive than a garish Hollywood-style destination resort. Roman history is also so much more diverse and vast than the relatively short period of the American colonies. I think it would naturally draw more visitors, especially in view of its proximity to actual archaeological sites and such a wealth of world-class museums. It would definitely be one of the most interesting learning environments I had ever visited.

Rome Reborn

Although my dream history park still only exists on paper, other efforts to produce virtual historical learning environments have born fruit. The ancient world is a favorite subject since so many ancient structures either no longer exist or are viewable only as crumbling remains. One of the most extensive efforts to recreate an ancient site is Rome Reborn.

“Rome Reborn is an international initiative whose goal is the creation of 3D digital models illustrating the urban development of ancient Rome from the first settlement in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the depopulation of the city in the early Middle Ages (ca. A.D. 550).

With the advice of an international Scientific Advisory Committee, the leaders of the project decided that A.D. 320 was the best moment in time to begin the work of modeling. At that time, Rome had reached the peak of its population, and major Christian churches were just beginning to be built. After this date, few new civic buildings were built. Much of what survives of the ancient city dates to this period, making reconstruction less speculative than it must, perforce, be for earlier phases. But having started with A.D. 320, the Rome Reborn team intends to move both backwards and forwards in time until the entire span of time foreseen by our mission has been covered.”Rome Reborn official website

Begun in 1997, the project has progressed through three iterations so far including the modeling of 32 buildings and monuments circa 200 A.D. 22 of these structures once existed in the western part of the Roman Forum: the Tabularium, the Forum of Julius Caesar; the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine; the Temple of Venus and Rome; the Arch of Titus; the Arch of Constantine; the Flavian Amphitheater; the Ludus Magnus; the Septizodium; and the Circus Maximus.

Now on Google Earth

Google Earth now contains 3D models of many of the historical structures visitors will find scattered around Rome.Last year the models of Rome Reborn were added as a new layer in Google Earth. You need version 5.0 of Google Earth to get the subfolder “Ancient Rome 3D” under the Gallery folder in your Layers selection tool. Then you must place a checkmark in the Ancient Rome 3D layer and fly to Forum Romanum.

There you will see small yellow icons representing various models that you can view. Double Clicking on the icons gives you info about the particular structure you have selected but to see the model you must first download Ancient Terrain, Ancient Landmarks (250 buildings) and if you have enough Ram (3 Gb recommended), Ancient Buildings. The ancient buildings folder contains over 5000 images so it will take a while to download. Then you will be able to zoom in, tilt your terrain and view the Rome Reborn models in their proper geographic context using Google Earth’s navigation tools or your mouse.

Is Anybody Out There?

I admire how much effort has gone into the design of these models and that they are freely available to view and study. However, I find the Google Earth navigation scheme awkward and frustrating. For the most part I prefer to view My avatar dressed like Indiana Jones explores the "wonderful things" of King Tut's virtual tomb at Heritage Key.buildings at street level and attaining that angle with the tilt and zoom controls of Google Earth is challenging to say the least. Furthermore, looking at models of buildings and rendered terrain is interesting but a rather solitary experience.

I really prefer to learn about the people of ancient Rome and interact with other Roman history enthusiasts. That’s why I prefer to explore virtual worlds based on OpenSimulator software like Second Life, Heritage Key’s King Tut Virtual or IBM’s virtual Forbidden City.

Remember earlier I mentioned that social psychologist Jean Piaget says we learn most authentically when we can interact with peers? The reason worlds created with Open Simulator have so much more learning potential is that your avatar has communication capabilities that enable it to enter into online chat with other visitors or with preprogrammed or live guides or assistants.

Furthermore, you can customize your avatar to be whatever age or gender or species that you wish to help you experience interactions not biased by physical appearance or age. In the early days of the internet, there was a saying “On the net nobody knows you’re a dog”. I saw many cartoons that showed a real dog using a computer with that caption. This aspect of online environments can actually help people to exchange ideas without the bias of knowing who is older or younger, who is attractive and who isn’t, or even who is male or female (or human or canine!).

No Sex Please – We’re Avatars!

With lions roaring in the background, my avatar eyes the bloody arena in SPQR's amphitheater in Second Life.

Of course some of our ingrained social habits may get in the way at times. Once when I was exploring SPQR, a virtual Roman recreation in Second Life, I noticed another visitor who had a wonderfully detailed barbarian costume.

I mentioned it to one of the other visitors I was talking to and she knew the barbarian I was admiring. She called him over and the other women I was with started saying things like “You go girl” and things like that assuming I was trying to pick up the good looking barbarian. In real life I was probably twice his age. Really, I was just interested in the software that he used to produce the articles of clothing his avatar was wearing.

Second Life can be enjoyable. Although I keep missing the staged gladiatorial combats in the virtual amphitheater in SPQR, I have enjoyed a virtual bath in the Roman baths there. But its purpose is primarily entertainment and relaxation and, of course, making money for Linden Labs, its creator (although there are excellent in-world educational activities available – many produced by real world institutions of higher education).

Consequently, there are few guidelines for vistors within the Second Life environment except for the minimum age limit of 18. You may find yourself in a somewhat compromised position either figuratively or literally since virtual sex is not prohibited and people have become quite adept at adding the appropriate body parts to their avatars!

“…issues related to human interaction and developing community norms need to be addressed as well as the improving the user interface, in-world graphics and server response times.”

I, personally feel more relaxed exploring a more G-rated environment that was created with an educational purpose like King Tut Virtual created by Heritage-Key, or the virtual Forbidden City created by IBM in conjunction with the Palace Museum in Beijing. IBM is investing significant sums into the development of virtual worlds and is convinced online 3D virtual worlds are the next step in the development of the global online experience. But, at a conference in 2007, IBM’s virtual world researchers acknowledged that issues related to human interaction and developing community norms need to be addressed as well as the improving the user interface, in-world graphics and server response times. IBM is also championing the adoption of open standards to facilitate interoperability between virtual world sites to foster widespread adoption and innovation.

Multi-sensory Environments

My avatar, dressed as a lady of the Qing Dynasty court approaches the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the virtual Forbidden City.So, what’s the future of virtual environments? I attended an O’Reilly Emerging Technologies conference a few years ago and 3D graphics specialists were discussing a system that would use a heads-up display to overlay 3D rendered graphics into a visitor’s visual field. The system determined which graphics to display by a GPS sensor keyed to the visitor’s position within a mapped geographic field. The system would include immersive sound and smells as well.

I know to some of you this may sound like a Star Trek holodeck but many of these technologies have been around a long time. The use of scents in conjunction with film dates clear back to 1906. Computerized scent generation was in beta test in the late 20th century. I actually saw a demonstration of a computer-controlled scent dispenser developed for game use at the Comdex Computer Show in Las Vegas over ten years ago. On April 7, 2005, Sony went public with the information that they had filed for and received a patent for the idea of the non-invasive beaming of different frequencies and patterns of ultrasonic waves directly into the brain to recreate all five senses.

I think before too much longer researchers will combine these technologies with motion capture, wireless networking and, hopefully, one of my favorites, natural language artificial intelligence systems to provide fully immersive worlds complete with virtual human or programmed companions (or antagonists) within the virtual space.

All of these technologies currently exist. It’s just a matter of combining them in a way that not only works well but makes it possible to produce quantities of them at a widely affordable cost.

These systems would make it possible for those interested in authentic learning and cultural preservation to merge real world heritage sites with virtual environments to provide the collaborative relationships needed to advance understanding and appreciation of our shared heritage.

For example, if such a system were deployed at the Colosseum, visitors would don their headsets and, as they walked around the site, they could switch views between the current semi-ruin and a recreated model of the structure. You could smell and hear the animals waiting for release in underground passages and watch virtual gladiators fight it out in the arena. Informational guides would appear at specific GPS locations and not only provide additional information to you but answer your questions. A virtual Roman crowd would fill the stands and if you sat at a particular GPS location you may find yourself engaged in a conversation with a disgruntled tavern keeper or maybe the Emperor himself!

3D Models of Ancient Artefacts on Show in Arizona’s Virtual Vault

3D Model of Native American bowl decorated with flowers created with 3DSOM Pro. In an effort to share their extensive collection of pottery from the American southwest with both museum and internet visitors, the Arizona State Museum is collaborating with the Center for Desert Archaeology on the Virtual Vault Project. Models of each vessel are being created using 3DSOM Pro, a tool for automatically generating 3D models from photos of an object. The software is produced by Creative Dimension Software Ltd.

“The Vault will go far beyond static electronic exhibit modules that depict a vessel and list its type and ware designation, description, dating, and function – instead, it is being developed as a fully interactive, layered information resource.” explains Doug Gann, Center Preservation Archaeologist and Digital Media Specialist, ” Researchers will be able to view a vessel from all angles and make accurate measurements by manipulating the model onscreen. Viewers will be able to hear curators, archaeologists, and artists share information about the pottery, and in some cases, they will be able to enter a virtual reconstruction of the landscape, site, and room where a pot was found.”

The 3DSOM Pro software generates a 3D model in four steps. Using a conventional digital camera, photos of an object placed on a printed mat are taken from a number of viewpoints in front of a plain backdrop. The software then automatically masks the image (separates the image from the background). The 3DSOM Pro surface generation wizard then automatically generates a high quality wire-mesh model of the object. A high quality texture map is then generated using the color information extracted from the collection of photographs.

The model is then exported and combined with Java-based software to enable a visitor to rotate, move and zoom in or out to examine an object from multiple angles.

Explore an example created by the Center for Desert Archeaology:

This software was also used by the Swedish museum, Murberget to power their online gallery.

“3DSOM was used in our virtual museum, where a new item is presented in 3D each month, explains Lars Goran Spang, head of research, “The modeling of artefacts can in some cases be done in half an hour, which is important if modeling is to be a regular routine. Another key feature of 3DSOM Pro is that the software exports 3d content for the web that doesn’t require any “annoying plug-in (beside java).

The museum’s online gallery offers visitors the opportunity to “handle” everything from ancient flasks to the skulls of extinct animals.

Setting a Price on Antiquity

Bust of Roman Emperor Caracalla A bust of the Roman Emperor Caracalla will be auctioned off October 28 by Bonham’s. The auction house estimates the bust will bring 250,000. The lot description says the bust dates to the period after he murdered his brother and co-emperor Geta and their website lists the provenance as the current owner having a receipt from Mr. Dennis Leen, Beverly Hills, California dated 1976. But Dennis and Leen is not a individual but an exclusive interior design company in Beverly Hills who curently specialize in high quality antique reproductions.

This information brought me up short. Is a receipt from a company that is known for producing high quality antique reproductions considered adequate provenance for a bust that supposedly dates back to the second century? So I called Dennis & Leen to check to see if they ever dealt directly in the sale of antiquties. After checking some company references, a manager at their flagship store in Beverly Hills assured me that yes, earlier in their company’s history, they did sell genuine antiquties. But is this provenance adequate to stave off a repatriation claim or justify the estimated price?

The ideal provenance would track the item from archaeological site through each successive buyer. Is it risky to purchase such a piece with repatriation claims snatching away pieces from even prestigious museum collections?

“The laws are extremely complicated and changing all the time,” says Patty Gerstenblith, specialist in cultural property law at DePaul Univeristy. “But you can buy objects that predate national ownership laws and any bilateral agreements between the U.S. (or U.K.) and the country of origin if ownership can be traced for at least a couple of decades.”

Anxious prospective buyers of any antiquity can check the international database of lost and stolen art. The U.S. State Department also maintains a website that tells you which countries have bilateral agreements and emergency rulings currently in effect. The website includes an image database of restricted artifacts.

“The laws are extremely complicated and changing all the time,” says Patty Gerstenblith, specialist in cultural property law at DePaul Univeristy. “But you can buy objects that predate national ownership laws and any bilateral agreements between the U.S. (or U.K.) and the country of origin if ownership can be traced for at least a couple of decades.”

The best protection, of course, is to buy only from dealers who offer a complete refund if anyone brings a claim of ownership or improper importation. A warranty of authenticity that validates the claimed date or period of the artwork is simply not enough.

Setting values on antiquities can be difficult as well, especially with prices soaring as countries crack down on cultural exports. Like most collectibles, antiquities are worth whatever the prevailing market will pay. So how do institutions like Bonham’s or Sotheby’s go about determining what a collector or museum will pay for a piece of ancient artwork that they plan to auction? Although many of the large auction houses rely on their experience with past sales, they also turn to the experts at museums or research universities to help them authenticate pieces. The Getty Center has assisted both Christie’s in Los Angeles and Sotheby’s in New York to research items they have been asked to sell.

Back in 2005, issued a press release that they would soon begin listing all gallery and auction antiquties sales in their database to help potential buyers and sellers determine equitable values. Brian McConville, Artnet’s director of sales, said the tracking service would help establish prices more universally. The search service charges $3.50 per individual search or $29.95 for 10 searches in a 30 day cycle.

Artnet’s search price is obviously geared toward museums and galleries who may be investing large sums in particular items and need precise comparative values to justify their purchases to board members or shareholders. For those of us who don’t have 250,000 lying around to invest in a bust of a Roman emperor but would like to place a finger on the pulse of the antiquities market, checking Sotheby’s sold lot archive for the latest antiquity transactions there can be fun without running up a tab.