Monday, April 21, 2008

ROMA Archaeology in the Second Life® World


A new interactive archaeology attraction has been built in ROMA, the ancient Roman estate in Second Life. Called "ROMA Archaeology" it is housed in the ROMA Transtiberim sim.

Ten stations are arranged around a large open trench. By visiting each of the stations, an avatar can participate in activities that will explain the basics of archaeological theory and method. There are also several free prizes to be won along the way.

All visitors arrive at a landing point that explains this is a "reconstruction of an archaeological site. Visit each station in order to find out what archaeologists do and why they do it."

Station 1

The first stop is the transit (dumpy) machine at the edge of the open trench. When an avatar hops on it, the avatar's camera is relocated so the stadia rod on the other side of the trench is visible. The transit machine then whispers to the avatar:

ROMA Transit Machine: Look at the black and white measuring staff at the other side of the trench. If each bar on the staff measures 20 centimeters, how many centimeters is it from the top of the staff down to the top of the pebbly layer (where the red arrow is)? Say the number only in open chat.

It then waits for the avatar to say the correct number of centimeters. When they do, it congratulates them:

ROMA Transit Machine: Correct! The top of the pebbly layer is 140 centimeters from the top of the staff. With this machine, the archaeologist can record where each layer exists in space.

It then gives the avatar a special GPS Device Gadget and directs them to climb down into the trench to the next station.

Station 2

Down in the trench is a collection of tools and three orange balls. Touching the tools will give the avatar their own copy to use (trowel, shovel, and pick).

Hopping on one of the orange balls with the correct tool equipped will begin a specific animation and sound. The longer the avatar trowels, shovels, and picks, the more chance they have to uncover an artifact:

Torin found some very tiny shards of a glass vessel.
Torin found some tiny bits of pottery.
Torin wonders if that is gold glistening in the corner of the spoil.
Torin has found a tiny statuette!
All items can be taken away by the avatar.

Station 3

The law of stratigraphy is explored in Station 3. Each layer in the side of the trench is numbered. The avatar is asked to find the deposit that reflects the fill of a pit that was dug.

Layer 3: Correct! Notice how the pit was dug into deposit 2, filled with soil deposit 3, and then covered over with deposit 4.

Station 4

Relative Dating is explained by Station 4 with a short activity. The avatar is asked to touch the pot that is probably the oldest given its relative position within the stratigraphy.

Pot in Layer 1: Correct! This is probably the oldest pot since it is in the oldest layer, however archaeologists have also developed datable chronologies for many ceramic forms. This allows them to relatively date pots based on shape and fabric as well.

Stations 5 and 6

Station 5 continues a discussion of dating with explaining how Carbon 14 is used for absolute dating. A cut log tells the avatar about Dendrochronology.

Preserved Log: If archaeologists are lucky enough to find preserved wood, they may be able to count and measure tree rings. Since rings are made each year by the original tree, and environmental factors determine the thickness and shape of the rings, scientists can compare the preserved wood with known samples from the region. This can give the archaeologists an exact (i.e. 'absolute') calendar date for when the wood was harvested, and possibly a date for the archaeological layer it came from.
Station 6 is dedicated to recording. A standing camera allows the avatar to take a picture of the section, which they then receive in their inventory.

Station 7

Touching the upright shaker screen makes it move back and forth. The pile of soil in it slowly disappears as grains fall out of the bottom of the screen.

Sometimes when touched, the sifter will tell the avatar that nothing was found:

Nothing in that bucket but some non-descript bits of ceramic.

That was a full bucket but it didn't have anything in it.
But there is also the chance to find some objects in the buckets of soil. When that happens, dirt is said to get all over the avatar:
Aha! A whole pot and some nice pieces of iron! But you rest the pot on your lap and get dirt all over your jeans.

That bucket had a lot of artifacts in it! But you got more dirt on your shirt than in the Sifter!

You found a good deal of artifacts, but now you have dirty hands!

Whoops! You drop half of the bucket on your feet and get dirt all over your shoes!
If the avatar sticks at it long enough, they will have a full new outfit of excavation clothes (pants, shirt, shoes, and hands).

Station 8

Station 8 is a finds tray located near the upright shaker screen. It holds a collection of artifacts that when touched will whisper what information archaeologists can glean from them. For example:

Chunk of Painted Plaster: I was probably knocked off a wall when it was re-plastered and re-painted, and wound up in the trash. Sometimes my decor can suggest when I was made.

Broken Pottery: Archaeologists can use me to date layers, and also possibly tell what I held in antiquity.

Roman Coin: Archaeologists love me as I can be dated very precisely. However, I usually don't come out of the ground this clean. Usually the soil corrodes me, and I have to be cleaned.

Unfired Clay: I may indicate that there was a kiln for making pottery located nearby.

Fragment of a Stone Sculpture: Even though I am fragmentary, archaeologists may be able to recognize what I looked like from other copies they may have seen before. I was actually a little statue of a Household God, which can also tell the archaeologists about ancient religion.

Stations 9 and 10

Station 9 is dedicated to Ecofacts. It is a reconstruction of a closed-system archaeological flotation tank. Touching it causes red arrows to appear and whisper the way the system works:

First, water is forced into the tank, agitating the water.

Second, the moving water forces the heavy soil to sink and the light ecofacts to float. The archaeologist uses hands to skim the ecofacts down a chute.

Third, a screen catches ecofacts as they come down the chute, with the excess water collected in a tub.

Fourth, a pump recycles the water back into the tank, closing the system.

Finally, the archaeologist can sort through the ecofacts and get information about ancient diet, environment, and other issues.
Station 10 is a brief exploration of archaeological ethics, highlighting the difference between archaeology and treasure hunting, the question of ownership, and timely publishing of data. Touching the sign gives the avatar a special 'Spirit of Archaeology' statuette.

ROMA Archaeology

The attraction was designed and built by a professional archaeologist. It is hoped that it can be used by educators and other professionals to illustrate the basics of archaeology.

Comments can be directed in world to Torin Golding.

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