Review of Review of Poggio Colla. The 1995 Season Sampler [CD-ROM]

Reviewed by Dr P. Perkins

Department of Classical Studies Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA UK. Email: p.perkins@open.ac.uk

Cite this as: P. Perkins 1998 'Review of Review of Poggio Colla. The 1995 Season Sampler [CD-ROM]', Internet Archaeology 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.11141/ia.4.6

Further details are given, including price and how to order, under publications: http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13618.html

1 Introduction

'Poggio Colla. The 1995 Season Sampler' is a single CD-ROM for the Macintosh published by the University of Pennsylvania Museum and Southern Methodist University. It contains details of the first season of excavation at Poggio Colla, an Etruscan hilltop s ettlement in the far north-east of Tuscany. The excavations in 1995 were directed by Greg Warden of Southern Methodist University and Susan Kane of Oberlin College. The CD-ROM contains a multimedia presentation and associated text and image files.

2 The samples

The multimedia presentation revolves around an opening screen which forms a menu of sub-sections with varying contents.

The main menu with textlines to click on for each sub-section
Fig. 1 The main menu.
© Sam C. Carrier and Southern Methodist University 1996

These are:

Overview This contains a video sequence of Greg Warden in his office giving a general spoken introduction to the site and the excavation.

Greg warden speaking to camera and describing the excavations
Fig. 2 Screen shot of video sequence showing Greg Warden describing the excavations.
© Sam C. Carrier and Southern Methodist University 1996

It also contains a linear sequence of good quality images showing the location of the site. These include maps, air photos, general landscape views of the site and the region. The images are in colour, something which would not have been economic in a pap er-based medium, and have brief captions. There is also an atmospheric hand-held video of students walking through woods up the hill to the site, which gives a sense of immediacy and also informality which carries through the CD.

Excavating This section is a sequence of still images and video clips of students and staff at work on the excavation.

View of the excavation of trench 3
Fig. 3 The discovery of the Tuscan base in trench 3.
© Sam C. Carrier and Southern Methodist University 1996

The video is pretty rough and ready and the sound quality is poor, but that is exactly what is promised in the cover notes. Activities shown include surveying, excavating, recording, conservation, and finds processing. Each trench of the excavation is sho wn at various stages of excavation and a good impression of what happened during the season is provided. The potential of digital video is well demonstrated by a clip containing a description of Trench 3, such as one might receive during a site tour of an excavation, where the stratigraphy and walls are pointed out and explained in careful and thorough detail. This is precisely the information which is hard to convey with plans, sections and archaeological prose.

Archaic Tumulus Here a text description and images of an Archaic Tumulus near the site are provided. But the best part is a QuickTime Virtual Reality view of the constructed chamber tomb under a tumulus. Moving the mouse pointer to the left or right over a view of the tomb causes the image to scroll in that direction so that a 360° panorama from a fixed viewpoint can be viewed. A series of viewpoints in and around the fairly ruined tumulus in the woods gives a good impression of the tomb.

View of the QuickTime Virtual Reality image of an archaic chamber tomb
Fig 4. View of the QuickTime Virtual Reality image of the tumulus and chamber tomb.
© Sam C. Carrier and Southern Methodist University 1996

Once again an impression of the remains is given which could not be obtained in other media; unfortunately the images contain no scale and it is not possible to work out the size of the chamber tomb.

Petrography of ceramics This section consists of a text summary and photomicrographs with descriptions of thin sections of some of the ceramics found during the excavations.

Director's notebook This is an informal interim report of the research rather than a site notebook or diary. It summarises the results of the season during which the most significant finds were the head of an archaic copper alloy figurine and a n archaic Tuscan column base (possibly the earliest yet found). This, along with other moulded blocks found at the site, lead the author to suggest that the remains of a temple lie at the site.

Bibliography This is a thematic bibliography of the archaeology of the area to the north-east of Florence and the settlement and economic archaeology of the Etruscans. The bibliography is not linked to the text in any way but it is up to date. The full references are presented as scrolling text which, unfortunately, does not scroll back to the top of the list if the bibliography section is left and returned to at a later stage.Credits The CD-ROM was produced and directed by Sam C. Carrier.

Help The help system consists of general comments and directions to a text file containing further comments.

The CD-ROM also contains other material not linked to the multimedia presentation interface. These are:

3 Interface Design

The interface is very simple. An enigmatic icon at the bottom left of the screen returns the user to the main menu and arrows pointing to the left and right icon at the bottom right take the user forward and back through the linear sequences of images and video clips in the subsections (e.g. Fig 2). These are the only navigational controls apart from the self-contained standard QuickTime Virtual Reality controls. A single click on the text lines of the main menu takes the user to each subsection. A single click 'Quit' text line on the menu closes the program without offering the possibility of confirming the action; there is no 'Are you sure you want to quit?'

The interface is simple because the structure of the multimedia is simple; this is not a problem. However, the interface is not at all responsive and there is no feedback following user actions. If a main menu item is selected nothing appears to happen. Eventually the multimedia shows up, but I found myself clicking several times on the menu item because there was no visual feedback to confirm that the click had been successful. A standard solution to this problem is that, following a click, the mouse poi nter changes to a wristwatch shaped cursor (on the Mac), letting the user know that the click has been successful and the multimedia is on its way. Likewise, there is no visual feedback to the user when the mouse pointer enters a part of the screen which can be clicked upon; the standard solution is a finger cursor. The forward and back controls are also limited. When the end of a sub-section is reached no indication is given that you are at the end until you click on the forward button, and the only cons equence is that it greys out and then nothing else happens. A better solution is for the control to become grey as the end of the sub-section is reached to indicate the function of the control is not available, and incidentally showing that the end has be en reached. The back button can behave in the same way at the beginning of a sub-section. These are indeed niggardly criticisms, but such small things do have a disproportionate impact on the usability and the user's impression of a CD-ROM. A greater problem is caused by the choice of a graphic design which displays mid grey text over a greyed out texture derived from a photograph of a woodland scene. It looks very nice but it is actually very hard to read.

Screen of hard to read text against a graphic background
Fig. 5 Can you read this?
© Sam C. Carrier and Southern Methodist University 1996

4 What is it?

I'm not quite sure how to describe the contents of the CD-ROM. It's part interim report (formal and informal), it's part personal account of the excavation, it's part multimedia experience, part promotional material and part academic research. Whatever it is, and I can see why it is called a 'sampler', it must be good value at $9.95. It is disappointing that it is only available for the Macintosh since that means that the vast majority of personal computer users in the world cannot use it. Now that I've explored the CD-ROM I know much more about the site at Poggio Colla. I've learnt and seen more than I could have discovered from a traditional printed interim report. The profusion of colour images would not have been possible on paper and t he QuickTime Virtual Reality tomb demonstrates how the medium can enhance a description and still images of a monument. But the real strength of the CD-ROM — in my opinion — is that it manages, through the use of home-spun video, to communicate something of what excavating on the hill top was actually like as well as what was found.

4.1 System requirements

The CD-ROM requires a Macintosh computer with 68020 or higher processor and a colour monitor with at least 256 colours at 640x480, CD-ROM drive and 8 MB RAM, System 7.1.1 or higher and QuickTime 2.0 or higher. The CD-ROM was reviewed on a Power Macintosh 8500/120 with a monitor set at Thousands of colours at 480x640 (a higher resolution gives a smaller image surrounded by a thick black frame). The installation was simply a case of inserting the CD-ROM and clicking on an icon to start. The software was rob ust and no problems were encountered. Performance on the test machine was acceptable.

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