IUP website takes archaeology class into a virtual dig
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Indiana University of Pennsylvania has carved out a virtual dig for its archaeology students in Second Life.
Second Life is the popular online destination for people who want to socialize, play games or buy and sell stuff in an alternative world. But virtual worlds are also an educational tool whose potential is beginning to be tapped by projects such as IUP's Archaeology Island in Second Life.
Archaeology Island is the creation of Beverly Chiarulli, associate professor and director of IUP Archaelogical Services, and Scott Moore, associate professor of history.
In the IUP Second Life world, students can explore accurate re-creations of a Mayan pyramid, a Native American village, ruins in Cyprus and a sunken ship.
"Although there is a gaming atmosphere about Second Life, it does give you more perspective on what it would be like to go into a late prehistoric house in Pennsylvania or go underwater and see what a shipwreck site would be like," Dr. Chiarulli said. "You can look at a picture in a textbook of what a pyramid looks like, but it looks different when you're on top of it looking out on the surrounding countryside. Second Life is not like you're really there, but it gives you some idea of scale and distance."
IUP's first foray into the Second Life world was in 2007, with Crimson Island, a place where students and faculty could gather online.
The dig sites on Archaeology Island are all replicas of actual locations, including a dig in Cyprus, where a group of IUP students go for research and study every summer.
Students create avatars and navigate the Second Life environment to learn the proper techniques for digging and what the process of removing layers looks like.
At the Mayan pyramid in Belize and the Cyprus dig, students can see re-created versions of what structures that are now in ruins once looked like. Images of artifacts have been scanned and can be viewed in 3-D. They can do things that wouldn't be possible in real life, such as taking a virtual dive around the shipwreck.
There is a Monongahela village, based on a research site near Blairsville. It was a museum exhibit on campus that was repurposed for Second Life.
There is also a virtual classroom building, which has been used to hold discussions and events for students from around the world.
Several students have run with the project, designing structures and content for this virtual world. "The students have the interest and more of a sense and feel for what this kind of media can do," Dr. Chiarulli said. "It has given several of them the opportunity to turn archaeological data into a three-dimensional world."
The goal, in addition to enhancing the students' educational experience and research, is to create new ways to present information about archaeology for a general audience. It's designed as an interactive museum exhibit. While some sections are primarily of interest to researchers and students, the island can be an interesting destination for curious Second Lifers looking for a different kind of adventure.
First Published November 28, 2010 12:00 am