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February 27, 2020

Digging with VR

Imagine digging…virtually! Researchers at the University of Illinois with funding from the National Science Foundation, have found a way to bring the archaeological field school dig to the classroom. Using virtual reality technology, the team has designed a virtual cave modeled in part on a real cave excavated in the 1930s. The site contains both ancient and more recent human artifacts, all accessible to the student that digs in the right spot. With over 110 virtual artifacts, many of which are based on actual university relics, the students work in teams of two to explore and safely navigate the cave. From deciding what tools to use to mapping where to dig, this virtual site allows students to learn it all. So the students are learning a broad spectrum of skills. They’re learning how to use historical information and find a site. How to excavate a site. How to map and plan for an excavation, and they’re learning how to catalog and document artifacts. The goal of this course is to provide an alternative field school experience that is less costly and accessible to all. Virtual reality allows end-users and students to experience (off cam) virtual field trips where you can access places that are not accessible in real life that they no longer exist or the cost of entry is too high you can make available to these students using virtual environments to give them experiences that they wouldn’t normally be able to have. The team is now evaluating the usefulness of the program to determine if the skills the students learn are equivalent to those obtained in a real-world dig.

Credit: National Science Foundation

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