Developing artificial life simulations of vegetation to support the virtual reconstruction of ancient landscapes
Ch'ng, Eugene (2007)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
Research in Virtual Heritage has gained popularity in recent years. Efforts by the community of Virtual Heritage researchers to reconstruct sites considered worthy of preservation span from the historical “built environment”, including the Pyramids at Ghiza and Virtual Reality Notre Dame, to natural heritage sites such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Virtual Everglades at Florida. Other important efforts to conserve artefacts and educate visitors include Virtual Stonehenge, Pompeii and the Caves of Lascaux. Entire villages, cities and even caves have been constructed as part of virtual conservation efforts. These digital reconstructions have, to date, contributed significant awareness and interest among the general public, providing educational benefits to schoolchildren and new research opportunities to archaeologists and conservationists, to mention but two groups of beneficiaries. Today, to paraphrase the work of Professor Robert J. Stone, Virtual Heritage strives to deliver to a global audience, computer-based reconstructions of artefacts, sites and actors of historic, artistic, religious and cultural heritage in such a way as to provide formative educational experience through the manipulations of time and space. It is realised that the user experience and educational value of a Virtual Heritage site is crucial – the process of virtual reconstruction is as important as its outcome. The total experience therefore, hinges on the modelling accuracy, scientific credibility, and the interactive visualisation capability of a virtual site. However, many interactive media implementations in Virtual Heritage in the recent past have failed to make full use of the advanced interactive visualisation techniques available to researchers. In particular, an element that many end users might consider essential, namely the inclusion of “living” and responsive virtual agents are noticeably lacking in most all Virtual Heritage examples. The addition of these ‘living’ entities and environments could give Virtual Heritage applications a richer, more evolvable content, and a higher level of interactivity. Artificial Life (alife), an emerging research area dealing with the study of synthetic systems that exhibit behaviours characteristic of natural living systems, offers great potential in overcoming this missing element in current Virtual Heritage applications. The present research investigates the feasibility of constructing models of vegetation, exploiting new developments in Artificial Life implemented within a controlled Virtual Environment for application in the field of Archaeology. The specific area of study is the recently discovered and recently named Shotton river valley off the eastern coast of the United Kingdom – a region that once flourished during the Mesolithic Era prior to the post-glacial flooding of the North Sea.
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