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UC Merced Virtual Archaeologist Saves Past for Future

November 14, 2008

Professor Forte breaks ground with virtual archaelogical research.As a “virtual
archaeologist,” UC Merced professor

Maurizio Forte
doesn’t limit himself to the present condition of
historical landscapes.

Traditional archaeologists study cultures through the recovery,
documentation, analysis and interpretation of material remains and
environmental data. Forte takes that science one step further with
the use of digital technology. He combines both to reconstruct
archaeological landscapes, which allows him to create an archive of
what he calls “virtual heritage.”

“The bridge between global and virtual heritage is constituted
by the information process: We communicate what we perceive and
learn,” Forte says. “Virtual heritage allows students to experience
the landscape up close. They can see texture and explore freely.”

The process of constructing virtual versions of ancient ruins is
time-consuming and involved, but well worth the effort, says Forte,
who will kick off

International Education Week
, Monday, Nov. 17, with a lecture,
“Cyber-Heritage: Saving the Past for the Future.” Monday’s lecture
begins at noon in the Chancellor’s Conference Room (Kolligian
Library Room 232) and is open to the public. Attendees are welcome
bring a lunch to enjoy during Forte’s presentation.

He and his team of researchers employ traditional and
contemporary archaeological methods to collect data. In the field,
his team uses laser scanning, photo modeling, digital
photogrammetry, global positioning and even visual observation to
recreate the skeleton of a landscape. From there, computer
technology is used to create objects, models, monuments,
landscapes, avatars and simulations that allow users to navigate
and interact with the scenery within the virtual world.

The final research product can be a virtual museum of sorts that
features a landscape in the way researchers presume it looked in
the past - complete with indigenous vegetation and original
architecture - and peopled with characters that can interact with visitors.

Forte has already created one virtual museum, of an ancient

Italian villa in Flaminia
. The “virtual museum of the ancient
via Flaminia” is in the
Nazionale Romano delle Terme di Diocleziano
, which is in Rome.
Since joining the faculty of UC Merced last year, Forte has already
had his sights set on creating a second one here in the U.S. -
possibly even on campus.

“That may be far in the future,” he admits, “but it doesn’t hurt
to dream.”

However, Forte has done more than just dream. He’s already
laying the groundwork to make his dream a reality.

Forte spent his summer in China, conducting archaeological
fieldwork in the Xi’an province through a collaborative effort
between UC Merced and the Jiaotong University.

The end goal is to create a virtual museum of the West Han
Dynasty, which is important because China has not historically
placed much importance in preserving ruins.

“This is the first time in the field of world heritage that a
foreign institution and its government have been directly involved
in the archaeological fieldwork,” he said. “It’s been crucial for
us to take on this project, because if we don’t document the ruins
now, they will be lost forever.”


Tonya Luiz