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More wired than a Roman Internet café

Electric Archaeology: Archaeology In, and Archaeology Of, Second Life.

I was originally supposed to be going to Dublin for the World Archaeological Congress, to give two papers. Unfortunately, life intervened and I'm not able to go. However, I will be giving one of those presentations anyway, via Second Life in the Art, Archaeology, and Technology: Current Experiments in Interpretation session.

Abstract for Electric Archaeology: Archaeology In, and Archaeology Of, 'Second Life'

"Archaeology is about material culture, about exploring the human condition (not necessarily in the past) through how we create and manipulate objects & landscapes. In recent years, the power of computing has opened up new universes for exploration, places where individuals create the worlds around them. This paper discusses my archaeological explorations in the current leading virtual world, 'Second Life'. This world deserves archaeological study - perhaps even needs archaeological study - in that it is nothing but pure construction of will and imagination. 'Virtual Worlds' are in themselves nothing new: from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian's Villa, to Disneyland in Florida, humans have been creating fantastical worlds for many different purposes, with simple entertainment not necessarily the prime motivation. Building on these observations, the paper discusses my own attempts to alter this world for archaeological outreach: a re-usable archaeological excavation."

It will be a live presentation from within Second Life, if all goes according to plan. If not, I've already recorded a video presentation to be given in case of emergency, and I'm just waiting for Youtube to do its magic. It turned out to be much more difficult to make this video than I anticipated.

Firstly, you need to do screen captures in Second Life. I followed the directions here to make that work.

Then, I downloaded Camtasia studio (trial version) to do the movie editing. I spent a fruitless day stitching together my stills and clips and then trying to match the audio to the video. I found it easier (relatively speaking), to do the audio first, and then the video.

I used audacity to record my stream-of-consciousness lecture, and then imported that. (Is there anything more cringe-inducing than listening to your own recorded voice? At least when I speak live, I can react to my audience; speaking to a recorder makes everything into a monotone...).

My virtual excavation prototype is coming along nicely. It has several contexts/layers, salted with artefacts from around the archaeo-web-o-sphere. I have a large media projector loaded with the Nabonidus webpage; when students touch that, it opens a browser window allowing them to log into Nabonidus and to do their recording. Picture below:

Virtual Excavation Site, RWU in SL
In my preparations for the talk, I've been visiting many different sims, and I came across an amazing temporary build, A Cruise on the Nile:

It was part of a fund-raising effort for breast cancer research, in the 'Duchy of Greystoke'. Worth a visit if it's still up.

Part II. Monday, June 30th. It's 6.17 am, EST, which makes it about 11.17 am Dublin time, and 3.17 am Second Life time. No doubt, there's a wild party going on somewhere in Second Life, but here at the RWU virtual excavation prototype, all is quiet.

I'm waiting to give my presentation to the folks at WAC6 in Dublin, but last I heard, there were some technical issues on their end - so a good thing I made a video of the presentation!

I had wanted to post it on Youtube, but in the end, they could not handle my video because they have an upper limit of 10 minutes - my talk clocks in at 13. Google video doesn't have a length restriction, so I went with them (but seeing as how they own Youtube anyway, I wonder why the distinction). It took forever for the thing to upload - I had to leave the computer running over night. I uploaded as an AVI file - Camtasia makes excellent SWF files, but for reasons unknown to me, it truncated my video - after nearly two hours of rendering - to 4 minutes and 32 seconds! Anyway, the quality is a little blurry, but I never said I was Fellini...

The argument of the talk, in brief: SL for archaeology: a place to 'do' archaeology', a place for archaeological VR, and a place for archaeological teaching and outreach.

* SL as a place to 'do' archaeology: Virtual worlds have always existed - from the caves of Cro-Magnon, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, to Disneyland, SL just the latest in a long line of virtual worlds. Indeed, since SL is a world of imagination and flights of fancy, it has more in common with the virtual worlds of the past created by historians or archaeologists in their reconstructions. How do we understand SL then? Think of games: what do games teach best? Not what they are ostensbily about, but rather, how to play them. The rules of the game might correspond with various historical epistemologies (think Civilization franchise): the rules of the game make a kind of argument for how the world works: a procedural rhetoric (in Ian Bogost's felicitous phrase).
* What are the rules in SL, in this world where 'anything' is possible? The rules are best expressed through how SL allows objects and scripts to be built: so to understand the rules and their implications means casting the same kind of archaeological eye over this virtual material culture and landscapes as we would in the 'real' world.
* therefore, if millions of people choose to spend their time and money in SL or other similar worlds, archaeology has a role in uncovering and studying the procedural rhetorics of this new frontier.

That's strand one. Strand two:

* traditional archaeological VR: clean, antiseptic, disembodied: you can only experience it by looking at the pretty pictures. In SL, since you are embodied in an avatar, you can explore the experience of the space; space-syntax in the real world explores how interconnected spaces give rise to certain kinds of experiences, so it should be possible to use SL to explore interconnected, re-created ancient spaces with space-syntax tools.... also, SL tends to clean up after itself (if you drop something, it gets returned to you) so in the presentation we take a side trip to SL dumpster to explore how one artists' collective uses SL to collect others' trash to study the lives of residents.

Third strand: SL for teaching

* if the argument about procedural rhetorics is correct, and that the only thing games teach you is how to play them, then I make that a virtue by translating archaeological metaphors into the basic building blocks of SL. Demonstration of the RWU virtual excavation prototype, integration with Nabonidus on-line recording system.

And so, without further ado, the video which should make much the same argument as above:

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