3D Visualisation of Cultural Heritage and the Ancient World (Vitale)

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PhD Research 2013-2016 (Awarded 2017)

Student: Valeria Vitale, King's College London

Supervisors: Stuart Dunn (KCL), Jari Pakkanen (Royal Holloway/Finnish Institute in Athens), Drew Baker (Australian Catholic University)


Rethinking 3D digital visualisation: from static visual aid to multivocal environment to study and communicate ancient cultural heritage


The main hypothesis behind this research is that moving from a static and opaque representation of the past to a dynamic, open and multivocal environment will change the way 3D visualisation for cultural heritage is perceived and used by the scholarly community and the general audience. Instead of producing pleasant images to illustrate (if not just decorate) external research, 3D visualisation will show its potential as virtual space to test, verify and compare different hypotheses, in a collaborative way.

One of the first aims of my research is to find a synthetic and effective way to document 3D visualisation that can be potentially adopted as a standard by the community of virtual archaeologists. The growing compatibility between 3D content and web browsers allows the use of RDF technology to connect the 3D model and its parts internally with each other—identifying and defining relationships—, and externally with online information about the material remains, previous publications, primary and secondary sources, and with available alternative visualisations of the same object (that share the same vocabulary). The combined use of linked data and 3D environments will introduce the latter to the the growing semantic network of digital resources that are available online, facilitating a new way to study the ancient world where different kind of information integrate and contextualise each other.

The second point I want to address, is that the lack of documentation, along with the choice of very realistic renderings, have widely disseminated the misconception that it is possible to produce an «exact reconstructions» of an ancient place of objects. Not only this approach implicitly hides the amount of speculation that is behind every work of visualisation, but assumes that a single image can fairly represent a piece of ancient cultural heritage. On the contrary, I claim that only a multiplicity, of visual hypotheses and interpretations, can give a measure of the complexity and richness of places and objects that often have survived only through ruins and incomplete accounts.

I have chosen Pompeii as a case study because of the amount of archaeological information it carries, but also for its popularity among both expert and non expert audiences. Due to its fame, a considerable amount of written and visual, academic and artistic, public and private documents have been produced in the last 250 years allowing now studies and comparisons of the reception of Pompeii across Time and Cultures.


Bentkowska-Kafel, A., Denard, H. and Baker, D. (eds.) (2012) Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage, Ashgate.

Favro, D. (2006) In the eyes of the beholder: Virtual Reality Recreations and academia. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series Number 61(2006): 321-334.

Forte, M. and Pietroni, E. (2009) 3D Collaborative Environments in Archaeology: Experiencing the Reconstruction of the Past. International Journal of Architectural Computing Issue 01, Vol. 07, March 2009, 57-75.

Frischer B., Niccolucci F., Ryan N., Barcelò J. (2002) From CVR to CVRO. The Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality. In F. Niccolucci (ed) Proceedings of VAST 2000. British Archaeological Reports 834 (ArcheoPresss, Oxford) 7-18.

James, S. (1997) Drawing Inferences. In Molyneaux, B. L. (ed.) The Cultural Life of Images. Visual Representation in Archaeology. Routledge, London 2011

Johanson, C. (2009). Visualizing History: Modeling in the Eternal City. Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation, 25:4, 403-418

Vitale, V. (2016), "Transparent, Multivocal, Cross-disciplinary: The Use of Linked Open Data and a Community-developed RDF Ontology to Document and Enrich 3D Visualisation for Cultural Heritage." In: Bodard, G & Romanello, M (eds.) Digital Classics Outside the Echo-Chamber: Teaching, Knowledge Exchange & Public Engagement. London: Ubiquity Press. Pp. 147–168. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bat.i

Valeria Vitale, Jeffrey Becker, Jonathan Prag (2016), "Where is the House of the Dwarves? Enhancing granularity in the Pleiades Gazetteer: The examples of ancient Sicily and Pompeii." Presentation at CAA conference, Oslo, March 29 to April 2, 2016. Video at: https://youtu.be/8q4RyWSXPGc

See also