Guest Blog: Dr Colleen Morgan and the OTHER EYES Project

As part of the 50th Anniversary of York Archaeological Trust, we have asked some of our research partners to write guest blogs about the research they are conducting with us. Dr Morgan is the first in this series.

Being Digital Romans: the OTHER EYES Project

What would it be like to walk in forgotten landscapes, seeing and dwelling in past people? I’ve been fascinated by this question for almost 15 years, and now with the use of mixed reality, I have been able to investigate what it is to create past people and walk using their feet, and see with their eyes. The OTHER EYES project uses 21st century digital technology and advanced archaeological science to make 3D digital avatars of past people. Working with a team of experts and technologists, we have prototyped a virtual reality experience based on Roman York. While many have used 3D to rebuild past landscapes and buildings, and even people and games, my work focuses on creating avatars based on specific people, using evidence from their skeletal remains and funerary assemblages. In this I try to understand how past people may have experienced differential mobility and other life experiences that diverge from current experience of space and place. 

This raises a multitude of questions:

But what benefits might seeing through “other eyes” bring? How do we digitally reconstruct past people and does authenticity matter? Does the ability to digitally embody a past person of a different age, sex, or with a disability change the way we think about the past? What are the ethics of “resurrecting” past people based on bioarchaeological evidence and can (and should) reconstructions of past people be archived to encourage their creative reuse? 

We are entering into the final phase of research now, after creating the ethical framework and the virtual reality experience, we are testing the experience. With the help of project partners BetaJester, the European Society of Black and Allied Archaeologists, York Museums Trust and York Archaeological Trust, I hope that we will be able to find a way to make this experience more widely accessible and to bring the past alive for everyone.