Forbes recently posted a very interesting piece on the use of virtual reality in archeology that is definitely worth the read. You can find it here. The main focus is on David R. Hixson of Hood College, who is opening new frontiers to bring archaeology into the world of virtual reality. Hixon uses the Unreal rendering engine (which is also at the base of the Mass Effect games, Mirror's Edge, Unreal Tournament, and many more) to recreated his finds.

The Unreal Engine is an open-source program developed by Epic Games to allow game developers to create immersive three-dimensional environments. While Epic offers the software for free to all users, the company actively encourages educators to make use of their platform.

By bringing drones to the site he was working on at the time, Hixson was able to create a three-dimension model of the archaeological site in a matter of weeks, when traditional mapping practices had taken years to cover the same territory. Due to the flexible nature of digital media, this model of Chunchucmil can also be layered with annotations that allow the "visitor" to the site to access more information if they so desire.

In another case, using just 49 photographs taken with a smartphone, Hixson was able to construct a photogrammetic model of an archaeological excavation unit using the Altizure software platform.  Traditional illustration methods in archaeology would require a plethora of drawings to encode the variety information captured in this one interactive model.

The potential of virtual reality for documenting archaeology sites is perhaps best exhibited by the work of Simon Che de Boer, founder of Reality Virtual, a New Zealand-based virtual reality research and development firm. Using photogrammetry software, Che de Boer was able to scan and create a high definition virtual simulation of the tomb of Nefertari, an ancient Egyptian queen. This simulation not only allows users to explore every nook and cranny of the tomb, but it is also layered with interactive components that allow users to learn more about what they are seeing. The package is available on Steam, free, so people can further their understanding of ancient cultures.

Another recent success story of digitized historically correct content? The Notre Dame. After a huge fire destroyed part of the cathedral only a few weeks ago, the team who'll be in charge of reconstructing it can draw from exact measurements and close-up shots used in Assassin's Creed Unity. The in-game Notre Dame is about as close to the real deal as it was possible to get when the game was released in 2014. It might be one of the most detailed resources the architects doing the work will have.

I've long sung the praises of anyone willing to digitize sites and artifacts from ancient history. It's a way to preserve and bring to life the past in a way that no other medium can these days. In a global world, it also created access for people who might not otherwise have the means to interact with these treasures, and to learn from them. I hope to see a lot more work like this being done in the coming years!