Visiting Virtual Angkor

[Images from the website Virtual Angkor depicting a 3D demonstration of terrain layers and LiDAR points, a daytime thoroughfare scene, and a dusk temple scene.]

For this project, I checked out the Virtual Angkor project, created by Monash University’s SensiLab. This project allows students and viewers alike to travel back in time to the sprawling city at the height of the Khmer empire. Viewers can look at images, teaching modules describing various aspects of life in the city, or can use the Angkor 360° to explore different places in 360°  view. That said, there isn’t really an argument at hand, but rather a detailed presentation of information about the physical place and the people who lived there at the height of its life. The site can take you through canals and rice fields, through a bustling marketplace, through the temple of Angkor Wat, and more. This project is a collaboration between archaeologists, historians, and digital humanists to create this tool that is not only incredibly beneficial for teaching, but also for revolutionizing the way archaeology and historical sites can be presented. While the actual data sets utilized in the project are not available to the public, the creators of the site and Virtual Angkor created the nearly 1500-square-kilometers map with LiDAR data, DEM (digital elevation) files, and GIS mapping layers. 

This site is created not only through the digital means of reconstruction – which as mentioned, that data is not currently available – but also through the study of print sources and Sanskrit and Old Khmer inscriptions. This kind of project is really where we see the digital humanities shine: the combination of complex digital analyses (creating complicated models and interactive maps) with deep historical and archaeological materials (pulling information from inscriptions and eyewitness accounts in the early 1300s). The site is easy to navigate, presenting teaching modules, Angkor 360°, and various scenes of people moving about their daily lives, with many images and easy-to-understand summaries of each page. This project is really fascinating and I would love to see this approach applied to more sites, particularly those that have been studied a great deal and need to be conserved, or are at risk of damage due to tourism. This website and project are really impressive resources, but it does make me wonder: what are the limitations of this kind of project? Can it be replicated for another site? Are there places where it can be expanded? How far can this kind of technology really go? 

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