Watching the world like our ancestors

This is the promise of UK computer scientists who are reconstructing antique worlds in 3-D for all of our senses, including smell. They say that we could experience what the past really looked like. The goal of these researchers is to build the 'Mother of All Virtual Environments'. The technologies used for this project are focused on how we could better understand our past in 3-D. But they also can be used to other fields which "require highly realistic visualization, including medical images, product design, architecture and crime scene reconstruction."

This is the promise of UK computer scientists who are reconstructing antique worlds in 3-D for all of our senses, including smell. They say that we could experience what the past really looked like. The goal of these researchers is to build the 'Mother of All Virtual Environments'. The technologies used for this project are focused on how we could better understand our past in 3-D. But they also can be used to other fields which "require highly realistic visualization, including medical images, product design, architecture and crime scene reconstruction."

Alan Chalmers, of the Warwick Digital Laboratory

On the picture above, you can see Professor Alan Chalmers, speaking about the archeological reconstructions done with computers (Credit: University of Warwick). This image has been extracted from a video available from Warwick iCast Week 22(about 5 minutes).

Chalmers is working at the Warwick Digital Laboratory, a recent £50 million facility opened at the University of Warwick. Here are some of his comments about this project.

"We're trying to produce images that show more realistically the actual conditions of the time we're looking back at," says Chalmers, who is leading the project. "Achieving this involves taking up-to-date historical evidence and combining it with the very latest in 3-d computer technology. The future might see the combining of extremely accurate, high-fidelity 3-d representations with temperature, smell, sound and other parameters," comments Professor Chalmers. "Our work may lead to a significant new tool that could help put us in closer touch with the past."

And here is why these researchers think their computer models will help us to understand our past.

Unlike physical models of heritage sites, one of the key benefits of computer reconstructions is that data can be held in an easy-to-manipulate digital format. It can therefore be updated simply and cost-effectively whenever new evidence, about a site or the period it dates from, comes to light. For example, chemical analysis of an ancient lamp can provide specific details of the particular fuel it used. This information can be used to determine how much and what type of smoke the lamp might have produced, and exactly how the colours of objects would have been perceived in the lamp's light, as these can change depending on the precise nature of lighting conditions. These findings can then be incorporated directly into computer-generated simulations of a relevant site, providing perhaps a different perception of how it would have appeared.

Chalmers and his team are currently working on the computer reconstruction of the Byzantine Angeloktistis Church at Kiti, Cyprus, which contains a mosaic depicting the Virgin between Archangels, according to this Mosaic Art web site.

Sources: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council news release, via EurekAlert!, May 15, 2007; and various websites

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