Visitor 1: “What did the guide say? Is this the palace or the library?”
Visitor 2: “I thought it was the latrines”
Visitor 1: “Just take a picture anyway.”
Visitor 2: “Don’t you have the camera?”
A visitor’s experience can enrich the traveller, or, like the scenario above, fast become a bewildering jumble of information. Moving from site-to-site as part of a ‘grand tour’ of the ancient world often leaves the everyday tourist exhausted. Comprehending the scale and magnificence of a site under the stifling heat of a European summer forces many to give up, instead shifting their focus to the air-conditioned bus, or the overpriced ice cream. I have even heard visitors utter the words, “Not another temple.”
What does a visitor see at an ancient site? What is their experience? Sometimes it is a pile of rubble with very little spatial context. Usually, the only accompanying information is located on faded information boards, or, perhaps they see a modern reconstruction. Although not always made clear, sometimes these reconstructions are ‘enhanced’ in the 21st century to entice visitors.
The ultimate goal is for the visitor to derive as much excitement as I do when I go to an ancient site. As an archaeologist, it is my job to bring understanding to the ancient world. When I see a pile of rubble, I see the temple and it is my goal for the modern visitor to experience what I see. VR is one solution that gives visitors a glimpse into my mind, transforming a half-ruined temple into a wondrous monument. When the headset is lifted, the visitor can appreciate the site in its current and original context.
I want to lend a hand to those who visit ancient sites, and avoid situations like the one above. Unfortunately, I can’t help recover the camera from your day bag, but I can hand you a VR headset.
Simon J. Young