At Laval Virtual we met Tijdlab from the Netherlands. They use XR technologies for archeologcal and cultural heritage content. We spoke to Rob van Haarlem about their recent projects and visions.
1. Rob, you are an archeologist, so was it your idea to use new technologies to help other people better understand what gets you excited about scientific findings?
Archeology has a large experimental factor. Pyramids, the Indiana Jones movies and the abundance of archeology referenced in games, from Assassins Creed to Halo, archaeology is part of many pop culture expressions. However, science itself often has a dusty image. This is due to the simple fact that not every find is made of gold or tells a thrilling story. In many cases, archaeology tells the story of the common man. A story that can be found in shards and discolorations in the ground. These finds do not seem very sensational, but the story behind these finds is often more sensational than people think. It’s the story of our ancestors, the story of why we are who we are today.
Telling this story on the basis of, often, abstract finds and features, quickly makes it dusty and boring for the layman. New technology makes it possible to take people on a journey through time in a scientifically sound way. In this way, people can get to know their history in a low-threshold manner. Technology makes sharing tangible on a whole new level.
2. What is important for a successful time travel experience? How important is scientific excellence? What competences do you have in your team?
A good experience starts with an even better story. Before you get started, it is very important that you know what story you are going to tell, to whom and why. This way you can determine how you can tell the story and what is most important. This can differ completely per project. A time travel experience is successful for us if people have had a nice experience, but have also really learned something. For the latter, it is important that what they learn is correct. Scientific correctness and relevance are crucial for this. Not everything has to be 100% correct, but the image one goes home with has to be.
To achieve this, our team consists of passionate developers and archaeologists who bring together the best of their own field in order to achieve the ultimate experience, both in terms of content and appearance.
3. Can you give us some examples of recent projects?
We have developed a website for the National Cultural Heritage Agency on which people can become acquainted with shipbuilding and ship types via an online game environment. The technique of Dutch shipbuilding was first described in all its facets by the Amsterdam mayor, lawyer, cartographer and collector Nicolaes Witsen (1642-1717) in his book ‘Aeloude en Hedendaegse Scheepsbouw en Bestier’ from 1671. It is a thick a difficult book to fathom and few have read it in its entirety.
Witsen used an example ship of average size for his story, with characteristics that did justice to both merchant and warships. Therefore, his ship is the key to almost all ship types of all sizes that sailed there during his time.
In this program you can see the reconstruction of the ‘pinas of 134 feet’, which Witsen has described in detail. The user can make a virtual tour of the ship, all parts can be viewed separately and are provided with Witsen’s original texts. Also, the specific Dutch construction method is interactively shown. The program is therefore intended for professionals and amateurs, for historians, maritime archaeologists, for modellers and for people generally interested in shipbuilding.
For another project, together with a group of students, we developed an exhibition for students. In this exhibition, an app was used to digitally spray graffiti over the existing paintings. Based on a number of assignments, the students were asked to give the paintings a new meaning with the digital graffiti. The questions all had a political, social approach.
4. Where can people experience your work? Are your time travels used at schools? Do you work together with teachers?
Our work can be seen in various museums and schools in the Netherlands. We are working with teachers on various projects to explore how we can strengthen students’ connection to their heritage through digital presentations. For example, a school has a smart display case with archaeological finds. The students can add stories to the display case themselves, by placing an object from home in the display case, and thus making the connection between the present and the past.
5. What is your dream project? In which time would you love to travel next?
It’s a bit cliché, but almost all the projects we work on are dream projects in some way. It feels great when digital presentations succeed in getting people excited about cultural heritage. Heritage is a connecting factor for all people, if you can contribute something to this, it is successful for me. You sometimes see people forget about problems and worries by wandering into past times.
My favorite time period has to be the Bronze Age, so traveling to this period is always just that little bit extra fun!