3. Evaluating 3D Visualisation Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage: visualisation and cognition

3.1. Introduction

The case studies above utilise some of the most commonly used immersive 3D visualisation systems for the analysis and interpretation of the archaeological record. Even though archaeologists and heritage specialists have long experimented with these new technologies in the fields of archaeology and heritage, some scholars suggest that these models lack information that can only be obtained through real-world human–object interaction (Lederman and Klatzky 1990; Renaud 2002). These concerns raise a question about the significance of digital object representations in both research and education. To address this concern, we decided to evaluate how people interact with 3D visualisation systems. This section presents the findings of recent studies aimed at analysing some aspects of how people interact with ancient material culture through different media. We aimed to answer two specific questions through our studies: how people perceive inner qualities of ancient artefacts when they experience these objects through media that are different from the tactile experience obtained with the original (see 3.2); and how human–object interaction changes based on the medium used to reproduce and present ancient artefacts (3.3). In order to investigate how different senses interact during perception and how individuals think while interacting with things, we videotaped volunteer participants interacting with ancient artefacts through different media (3D digital artefacts, 3D prints, 2D photographs, etc.). To analyse these videos, we used a multi-disciplinary approach and borrowed methods of evaluation from the cognitive sciences; we then combined the different data sources (see Table 2). While we believe that the methodology used for our research design is an effective way to evaluate how 3D visualisation systems affect human–object interaction dynamics, other methods of evaluation have also been used; these have focused principally on learning processes, recollection of information, rating of heritage experiences through the use of new technologies, and other aspects of 'physical', 'social', and 'cultural' presence (see Pujol and Champion 2012, and Dawson et al. 2011, which also provide a definition of 'presence'; see also Forte et al. 2006; Petridis et al. 2006a; 2006b; Di Blas et al. 2005).

Table 2: Data sources used for video analysis
Data SourceIntended purpose of data
Surveys of participantsTo gain demographic details and information about participants' previous experience (as professionals or as visitors to historical, anthropological, and/or archaeological museums) with ancient artefacts and their familiarity with 3D digital reproductions of artefacts.
Transcripts from video-interviewsTo understand how people describe artefacts with specific regard to word choice, how they focus on innate qualities of artefacts (i.e. shape, weight, material, etc.), and finally how they try to determine the function of these objects in the past.
Analysis of gesturesTo understand to what extent gestures give bodily support to participants' discourses, to observe which medium produces the highest number of gestures, and to see when participants use gestures and which kind of gestures.
Observations of participants' behaviour while 'interacting' with each mediumTo gain insights into how people interact with the medium, to understand the findings better (speech and gestures).
Questionnaires combining multiple-choice questions and Likert scalesTo gain insights into participants' overall experience with the media selected for the experiments.

In an inspiring article about the relationship between images, text and human cognition, anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour argued that when studying changes in the way scientists have used images in association with text, the focus needs to be only on those situations in which 'we might expect changes in the writing and imaging procedures to make any difference at all in the way we argue, prove and believe' (Latour 1986, 4). We believe that this statement applies equally to new technologies being introduced today and that it is time to start thoroughly evaluating the effects 3D technologies produce on human–object interaction.


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