2. Immersive Visualisation Systems in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

2.1. Introduction

The role of immersive visualisation systems has become a major theme in the 3D reconstruction of archaeological sites. Virtual reality systems and collaborative virtual environments (CVE) can involve the users in a collaborative learning process between them and the virtual environment. A collaborative virtual environment is an application that uses a virtual environment to support human–human and human–system communication. Within such virtual environments, multiple users can convene, communicate and collaborate. Interaction with the different virtual 3D reconstructions can, in fact, increase our understanding of cultural heritage through experience and 'presence' in the virtual environment. The main scope of these displays is to provide a sensorial experience with tangible heritage that simulates real-life experience. Immersive large-scale display systems, such as the Powerwall (Camporesi and Kallmann 2013; Galeazzi et al. 2010), next generation semi-immersive and immersive CAVE systems (Levy et al. 2010; Forte 2014, 22), and 360-degree 3D panoramic spaces (Kenderdine et al. 2012) are considered places for enhancing innovative studies of cultural heritage, providing researchers with new ways to interpret material culture (Kenderdine et al. 2009; Kunert et al. 2014). These systems can also be viewed as non-mediated places where a user can interact with a simulated past either independently or with other virtual users, and create both personal and collective narratives of past environments thanks to an embodied experience with the virtual space (Kenderdine et al. 2009; Forte 2008). Embodiment is one of the key components of immersive systems that have been implemented and used in archaeology, based on the idea that interpretation processes of the past are mediated by our embodied experience with past remains (Dant 1999; Malafouris 2004). 3D immersive systems have therefore been designed following theories of embodiment. According to these theories, cognition depends on our bodily, sensory motor capacity to experience the material (Varela et al. 1991, 172-73). Immersive systems allow for a sense of presence, as defined by Draper et al. (1998, 356): 'a mental state in which a user feels physically present within the computer-mediated environment'; and by Dawson et al. as involving 'feelings of being transported to another place and time ("you are there")' (2011, 389). Moreover, immersive systems rely on a sensory-motor learning system that is based on perception and action, since ancient artefacts and works of art 'are fundamentally visual objects, and any verbal treatment of them implies a translation of their most essential intrinsic characteristics, which are of a visual and perceptual nature, into a textual form' (Antinucci 2007, 84).

By combining a sense of presence and sensory-motor learning, 3D immersive systems can also be developed to incorporate hyperlinks that offer additional information on the 3D models and environment in real-time. This is possible using just the two main aspects involved in the creation of immersive 3D viewers for the analysis of the archaeological records: the archaeological content that the users will visualise in the viewer; and the way in which the content will be visualised i.e. the interface and the media (text, picture, video, etc.).


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