(Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia, USA)
As we look back on ten years of activity in applying the new technology of 3D computer modeling to archaeology and architectural history, we can observe great progress on many fronts. Computer modeling has become a widespread, well-understood technique. Scholars understand the need of publishing not only their 3D data but also the related metadata and documentation. The costs of creating and demonstrating 3D models have fallen dramatically, and today standard PCs can run models, even real-time models. As the quantity of archaeological models has increased, so, too, has the quality. Scholars have started to create animations in high-definition stereo. Real-time models are no longer just visual but sometimes include sound and even touch. Perhaps the most important achievement is that, beyond the narrow circle of digital archaeologists, cultural authorities, too, have “gotten it” and now understand the importance and utility of 3D models for documenting a site and presenting it to the public. A number of exhibitions and museums have used 3D models, and virtual heritage centers have even started to be created. The time is therefore ripe to think about the next ten years and why creation of a World Virtual Heritage Center (WVHC) would be timely and desirable. The WVHC could be a place where standards and best practices are tracked and promoted; where models of individual sites are deposited, maintained, and distributed via the Internet to users all over the world; and where changing exhibitions present work going on in this field all over the world. Moreover, the WVHC could be more a network than a “bricks and mortar” building: through partnerships with local, regional, and national virtual heritage centers, it could help work done in one corner of the world to be known and used all over the globe. This is important: unless virtual heritage is international in scope, it runs the risk of becoming less a tool to promote peace and understanding among peoples than a weapon to glamorize one culture at the expense of all others.