Rock art is a fascinating aspect of archaeology and art history that is becoming increasingly relevant to our understanding of the past and of early art. Yet not everyone who wants to can visit rock art sites, so a means to examine them remotely that gives a real feeling of the space around them as well as the motifs themselves is valuable.

Of the technologies discussed here, immersive VR, VRML and Desktop VR are the most promising for investigating such artefact-rich landscapes. Desktop VR in the form of Apple's QuickTimeVR was found to be the most immediate and photo-realistic, and uses the simplest tools for the non-programmer. In use QTVR proved a good practical way of navigating a landscape, allowing remote exploration with a high degree of independent interactivity.

In many ways, assessing the success or otherwise of a visualisation method is hard to quantify in anything but subjective terms. For the layperson, VR representations of these artefact-rich landscapes provide an excellent way to conjure a sense of space, representing well the relationship between widely scattered sites and their topography, and allowing an interactive examination of the artefacts at the pace of the user. For the professional user the value of the technique is less clear. A major purpose of presenting this article here is to get as much feedback as possible from field workers who might use Desktop VR. The ability to examine landscapes remotely and return to them later as ideas develop seems to be of great value. Similarly, the ability to visualise a landscape easily in a variety of guises and navigate through it simply, must be of value in teaching situations at the very least.

Virtual reality is still in its infancy - comparable to early static viewpoint movies of the early 1900s. Inevitably the technology will become increasingly sophisticated, powerful and user-friendly. As this happens it seems likely to become an everyday tool of archaeology.

Future Work

Once mastered, the QTVR process is relatively straightforward and has enough flexibility to allow a wide range of experimentation and innovation. In time it should be possible to develop techniques to simulate all of the five modes of perception discussed previously. For the moment, several modifications of the basic system might be attempted - vertical movement, panoramas in immersive VR, large-scale object capture and time-based panoramas.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Mon Sep 25 2000