Binchester Roman Bath House App Development

As part of the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Grant Ref AHL0132901 the Digital Building Heritage Group is working in a year long project with the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland (ARC&ARC) and Dr. David Petts of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham to create a mobile device app for a digital reconstruction of a Roman Bath House at Binchester Roman Fort near Hadrians’ Wall. Dr Petts has been leading a community Archaeology campaign excavating this important Roman site over the past five years with volunteers from the ARC&ARC. Very significant progress was made in this season’s excavations by Dr Petts and the Volunteers which have allowed a fuller understanding of the lower levels of this important military Roman bath house and its overall design and has revealed a wealth of fascinating and important archaeological finds.

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Unlike many of our digital reconstructions of historic and ancient buildings this virtual reconstruction of the Roman Bath house is being built solely for real-time interaction on iPADs, allowing the Volunteers to explore the structure and fabric of the building in 3D, and get information on the important artifacts and features found in and around it. The most important thing about the app is that it’s being designed so that once it’s completed the volunteers will be able to upload data on finds and excavation interpretation material themselves to it so that they can shape the information that is shown and the way that the archaeology they have been involved with is interpreted. This can be through text, images or even short videos and soundbites created by the volunteers on their mobile phones and tablets and should allow information to be both uploaded as excavation takes place and also afterwards in post excavation analysis. Material can be removed and adapted as interpretations and understandings change and so the app can be seen as a vehicle for allowing a dynamic process of community archaeological interpretation to evolve over time in a co-production process with professional archaeologists, other community groups and interested parties. It also allows for the possibility of conflicting interpretations of the same evidence to be presented and the cases for each interpretation to be put forward in data attached the model in a transparent process of mutivocality which can enable public users of the app to make up their own minds about the evidence and history if they wish to do so. There is also an embedded feedback facility for commenting and discussion – much like a social network.

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At a technical level the 3D model of the building is essentially just a means of intuitively navigating around the excavation data and a section tool has been included to allow the building to be cut away in three planes to reveal interior and sub-surface features using a thumb slider to vary the position of the section plane. We feel that this sectioning facility is particularly useful for exploring archaeological and strati-graphic configurations concealed under the surface or within walls and rooms. Uploaded data is attached to physical points on and around the model which are shown as hot-spots (the purple circles) which can be positioned very accurately to locate quite small features and can be clicked to bring up the data. Alongside the 3D representation of the building are all the usual 2D on-line maps which allow more data to be viewed in map form as well for the wider areas around the building.  We have deliberately kept the on-screen 3D representation of the building simple so that it acts a place-holder as much as anything else for the more detailed (and changing) archaeological and interpretive information that will attached to it by the community archaeology volunteers of the ARC and ARC. This use of digital building heritage virtual 3D models is of particular interest to us and is an area we are keen to examine in more detail. We expect to hold trials of the Beta version of the app with the ARC&ARC over Christmas and are anticipating a launch date for the app at the end of January 2015. The launch will be announced on this site – so keep a look at out.

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About Douglas Cawthorne

Reader in Digital Heritage at De Montfort University.
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