Virtual Avebury: Exploring Ancient Landscapes Through Virtual Reconstructions

Over the past few months I have been dipping my hands into another Kitely/OpenSimulator project, providing a helping hand to my colleague from the University of the West of England, Professor Liz Falconer. Liz is currently studying at Cambridge University for an Advanced Diploma in Archaeology, a particular passion of hers, where she is researching the potential of virtual worlds to assist in understanding ancient sites. Her chosen site for this project is Avebury.

For my own part I have always had an interest in the creation of landscapes in virtual environments, being drawn to this area from a now-distant background in landscape design and construction. The sense of presence that a well-constructed landscape can provide has often been a focus of my builds, utilizing not only the terrain and it’s associated objects, but soundscapes and atmospherics as well.

The intent of my posts around this project is not so much to reiterate what Liz has discussed in her blog diary of the build but more to detail some of the techniques I’ve used in supporting the build and to throw in the occasional observation as I go.

Avebury itself is more than just a set of stone rings; it also consists of an inner ditch and outer bank ring (henge) and it is the construction of these aspects that received my initial input. As some may know, the terrain in OpenSimulator (and Second Life) is constructed in-world using terraforming tools. These in turn result in a retrievable .raw file, a graphics file type that holds the information relating to the terrain mesh. It is possible to create a .raw file in Photoshop, using greyscales to determine the height of the terrain, and upload it to OpenSimulator. Tackling this task was made much easier, particularly in terms of determining the geographical layout of the structures, through the use of the map shown below.

Using the map as a guide I was able to accurately draw out the levels of grey required to define both the banks and the ditches, as can be seen below, and out of these create the .raw file ready for upload into Kitely.

The .raw file was then loaded into Kitely/OpenSimulator through the sim’s World/Region Details/Terrain menu to accurately create the henge in terms of both it’s geographical dimensions and it’s orientation. The sim in this instance is a 2 x 2 region (in virtual metre terms 512 x 512), enabling the reconstruction to be true-to-life scale. Though the result is a smoothened version of the structures, nonetheless this method realized a good starting point for Liz to create the final look.

In addition to using the survey map as a guide for the greyscale map I also created a to-scale version inworld to facilitate Liz’s positioning of the henge stones. You can see her using this in the following video.

Some months down the track and the reconstruction is coming on apace. Kudos Liz. And as so often happens in the creation of a virtual environment there is a point when the build moves from being a construction to being a place in its own right. Even though the environment is not yet finished one can definitely get a sense of being there. Standing in the circle, alone, surrounded by mist, stones, and the enclosing banks, there is a sense of presence, not just from oneself, but from the environment itself.

Visitors are welcome to visit Virtual Avebury during its construction. Login to Kitely then paste the following link hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/EIC at UWE/31/70/26 into a web browser to initiate a teleport to the build. It is suggested, once you arrive, that you increase your draw distance to 512 to fully experience the expanse of the environment.

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4 thoughts on “Virtual Avebury: Exploring Ancient Landscapes Through Virtual Reconstructions

  1. Thanks for posting on this Aaron, and a million thank you’s for working with me on it 😀. It’s wonderful to have your help and support. I’m loving having a big construction project to do – something as a teacher I don’t get much chance to do. Can’t wait to see the new landscape horizon you’re working on😊.

  2. Pingback: Recording OpenSimulator Visitors to a Google Form/Spreadsheet | F/Xual Education Services

  3. Pingback: Virtual Avebury: Exploring Ancient Landscapes T...

  4. Pingback: Creating Terrain Surrounds for OpenSimulator in Blender | F/Xual Education Services

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