One of the truly powerful aspects of VR is its ability to transport viewers to another place, to experience it in a tangible way. Our work at LVR does this not just through space, but also through time, to sites of historical significance, digitally reconstructed to how they were in the past.
Proving that there is an ongoing hunger for this kind of historical experience, Google has recently partnered with the Open Heritage project from CyArk. Using laser-mapping technology, they physically scan every object, surface, and texture of a location to create an accurate model that can be viewed in 3D.
Of course, the computer model can be preserved a lot easier than the actual location. Heritage sites are under constant threat from a range of detrimental forces including weather, natural disasters, over-visitation, and conflict. In fact, CyArk is a nonprofit organisation that creator Ben Kacyra created after seeing the destruction the Taliban caused to ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan back in 2001.
This digital conservation means an accurate record of important sites can be preserved for the future, so that, no matter what happens to them, we always have an accurate record of the past.
The wonderful thing about projects like these is that they place a valuable focus not only on the historical importance of a site but also on the importance of history itself. Why does it matter that we preserve the past? Why does it matter that we recreate what has already been lost, either to time or to outside destruction?
It matters because these monuments and sites are our shared story – a cultural heritage that gives meaning to where we are today. Through projects like these, all of us can ‘visit’ and experience crucial locations and buildings that have helped shape our collective history.
Of course, it’s a little easier to scan and create a copy of something that still exists. The challenge and exciting aspect of our work at LVR is to survey and scan what remains of a once-complete structure or environment, and then painstakingly recreate it at another, earlier moment in time.
As we discussed in a previous article, the layers of research, and insistence on historical integrity are what really set our work apart. Each site we recreate is built up from historical references and archival documentation. When we dig down deep for this archaeological accuracy, we bring the past to life through details that might otherwise be forgotten.
What we aim to do with our projects is not only preserve these historical stories and sites, but bring them back to life as they once were. That way, students and travellers young and old can experience them as though back in their splendourous heyday.
And significantly, whilst the cost of actual travel is still prohibitive to many, anyone who can afford a smartphone, a PC, and access to the internet can share in this digitally conserved heritage. It’s a powerful way of encouraging cross-cultural understanding amongst all races around the globe. And museum content of this kind really can help bring these stories into context.
We love seeing projects like Open Heritage making the news. Whether capturing the current state of ancient sites or conjuring up their vibrant past through research and technology, the power of VR and digital technologies to bring history to life for new and greater audiences has never been more important.