1. Introduction and Research Aims

This project emerged out of PhD research, and aimed to test an innovative technology for managing archaeological content by means of a Web3D-orientated development kit, which had already been employed in the field of Cultural Heritage (Carrozzino et al. 2005). The research objectives were twofold: testing the effectiveness of predictive modelling in the Italian Pisa coastal plain area as well as disseminating the research results through innovative communicative schemes, thereby empowering and enhancing the understanding of the archaeological record through the use of a state-of-the-art Web3D technology.

The recent law on preventive archaeology (Maggi 2007) has significantly raised the profile of the debate about archaeological risk in Italy, and so the need to provide academic departments as well as regional superintendence offices with effective tools for monitoring and quantifying the likelihood of finding new archaeological sites throughout the territory has dramatically increased. Consequently, the provision of a predictive model alone is insufficient if it is not accompanied by an adequate communicative framework. The Web therefore offers a method of giving academics and public administrators an interactive, easy-to-use, navigable map of the archaeological risk. Moreover, the use of 3D can be an effective means for improving the end-users' perception of the distribution of sites throughout the study area and archaeological risk. According to Forte et al. (2008), such cognitive activity is an "embodied" activity, where the body perception plays a significant role in the learning process. This is the reason why a 3D environment better suits the need of communicating the archaeological risk. The landscape experience that the final user gets in this way can be significantly better than in a traditional map, where there is no "physical" perception of the territory (viewshed, inter-visibility, aspect-related issues) but just a 'flat' representation of it.

Web3D technologies are particularly interesting for archaeologists who want to disseminate their scientific results by using an alternative communicative path, which can take into account the possibility of presenting even complex landscape representations or 3D-modelled artefacts. A number of such technologies exist; among these, XVR has been tested as a potential toolkit because of its flexibility and ability to be customised (Tecchia et al. 2010). Since XVR is thought of as an integrated development environment, it allows researchers to set up, almost without any limitation, their contents using S3D (a VR-oriented C++-like scripting language). This provides a very effective tool for analysing and presenting data on a Web-based system, in particular for those researchers managing a lot of statistical calculations. Finally, as archaeologists typically deal with a range of data media and sources, an environment thought to integrate multimedia content seems to be the ideal one for managing such diverse information (excavation reports, videos, databases) in a unique virtual space.


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