GET REAL: A Manifesto for Virtual Reality in Archaeology

Submitted to the “Experience, modes of engagement, archaeology” session organized by Krysta Ryzewski, Matt Ratto and Michelle Charest.


Virtual reality has been a “killer app” within the realm of archaeological computing, as evident from the number of books, journals, and conferences dedicated to the subject. Though often presented as a single entity, virtual reality is more of a spectrum, from the fully immersive environments famously posited in William Gibson’s Neuromancer to telepresence, or the space “where you are when you’re talking on the phone” (Rucker, et al. 1992). In this paper I will explore the range of these offerings and discuss their relative merit as interpretive and heuristic devices by asking a few uncomfortable questions. Should the people of the past serve as your digital tour guides? Is sitting behind a computer screen truly interactive? What do people learn about archaeology by walking through a virtual model? Does virtual reality contribute to a social archaeology? Finally, I will argue for an augmented reality model for interpretation in archaeology.

This is the first of my two abstracts for WAC. I’m not deeply happy with them, as they were both dashed off during this completely exhausting week.

I’ll post the other one tomorrow–but for now, beer.