Thursday, 2 February 2012

Google Earth to archaeology

Stonehenge and handful of other famous archaeological sites such as the Pyramids serve often as a testing ground for new computer methods and prospecting tools. This is because of their easy recognisability among the non-archaeologists and the awe these structures raise. Now the Stonehenge Riverside Project has extended its accessibility to the Google Earth and iPhone. This has been achieved in collaboration with the Google Research Awards, a program with which Google tries to create relationships between the firm and the academia as part of its ambitions related to information and its accessiblity.

‘Google Under-the-Earth’ is an extension of the Google Earth; with it you can add archaeological layers to the base terrain provided by the tool. The data excavated and gathered by the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol, Southampton and London has been used to develop ‘Seeing beneath Stonehenge’. The layers allow access images, geophysical data, site plans and video. The selection also includes reconstructions, such as the timber monument of the Southern Circle.

Stonehenge Google view by the Bournemouth University

This type of beneficial relationships are nothing new and the same kind of pilot projects were created and made publically known when geophysics and computer modelling were in their infancy and the large corporations developing the technologies needed to show that the products had several different kinds of uses in the real world. However, it is without doubt that this project in particular increases the knowledge of the wider public of the results of the Stonehenge Riverside Project. One does not have to travel anywhere in order to study the results and the presentations in detail.

Naturally, the developers at Bournemouth University hope that other great archaeological sites could be incorporated in this way and Google Under-the-Earth could display some of the archaeological [digital] excavation data from the great archaeological sites collected during the last twenty years. However, this will require funds and it will be seen if these continue to be distributed by the Google Research Awards now when the world-famous pilot is out and done and dusted. I am sure the archaeologists are eager to participate but the creation of materials will require the main stakeholders at different sites and different excavation areas collaborating and somebody to do a lot of preparations and work. I also hope that the copyright issues have been thoroughly discussed.

Similar pilot involving Stonehenge is the ‘Stonehenge Experience’, an iPhone App developed by the University of Huddersfield and the web developers Ribui. Now one can see the reconstructed Stonehenge on their phone. It seems the Stonehenge is the most modelled site of them all and unlike much of the world heritage can be seen over most of the platforms - also by your avatar. yes, and I remember sitting through a number of virtual Stonehenge presentations already ten years ago. One can only hope that the funds can stretch to include more data from other sites into these systems – and not only through free labour.

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