(Posted on behalf of Dr Hana Navratilova, Research Associate at Reading Classics.)
Moviegoers and gamers have been used to stunning visualisations of an ancient Egyptian landscape already for some time. And some of these visualisations have been based on a surprising amount of archaeological and historical data, such as in the popular Assassin’s Creed Origins. However, even apart from impressive educational potential, there is much that digital humanities can offer. The meeting ‘Ancient Egypt and New Technology’ held at the Indiana University’s Bloomington campus and organised by Dr Steve Vinson, aimed at harnessing the possibilities of digital technology to help and enhance research work in the humanities, particularly in Egyptology, alongside an instructive and impactful outreach.
The meeting constituted of two intense days of talks and discussions. We have revisited digital dictionaries as well as 3D and virtual reality reconstructions, which Reading readers will be familiar with from University of Reading’s very own Virtual Rome. Diverse models of digital research infrastructures were compared – from relational databases to large collections with potential use of the AI to support interactive resources search in large datasets – such as a planned complete list of Egyptian artefacts in the museums and collections across the world.
As in medical sciences, Egyptology too could benefit from digital technology bringing quantity of data to our fingertips – in a hope that this would promote a high quality research. As Mark Depauw of the Trismegistos project noted, Egyptology has been rather good at producing diverse ‘silos’ of knowledge. It will help to promote a richer knowledge-making, if we can connect these ‘silos’.
Immersive VR experiences attracted attention, but there was a good level of critical assessment of respective pros and cons of various approaches. The discussions were productive and touched upon issues of sustainability, long-term archiving, accessibility and linking of the various silos of data that Egyptology and other humanities are generating. A call for transparency was made, as well as for an ethical approach to acknowledging not only the origin of data but also the process of selection and interpretation, as noted by Willeke Wendrich. Generally, there was a balanced appreciation of new technologies as useful tools, but without naïve enchantment. Visualisations of the ancient world, repositioning of artefacts in their space and time, modelling of related artefacts spread across the world and integration of archival legacy with recent results will benefit scholarship, education and popularisation.