History lesson becomes reality with CEEDS
You walk through a dusty city in Boeotia, Greece. A man with a donkey passes by. A young boy has broken a water jug; the shards are left lying next to the well. Market traders extol the virtues of their wares. A women is removing the stones from olives. No cars, no smartphones to be seen anywhere - you have gone back in time, in a virtual world.
This scenario is quite possible. At least, it will be shortly. The European Commission is sponsoring a major new project called the Collective Experience of Empathic Data Systems (CEEDS). CEEDS develops a system based on virtual reality that processes archaeological sites into an interactive presentation. This method presents history in such a way that non-scientists are also able to appreciate the historical and emotional significance of the scene. They can identify with people who lived in this period in history with their own lives in the present day.
CEEDS covers a broad range of specialist fields, from archaeology to neuroscience. It is co-ordinated by Goldsmith University in London and involves 16 partners. One of these partners is a team from Leiden's Faculty of Archaeology, headed by Professor John Bintliff.
Archaeologist Dr Chiara Piccoli is Leiden's key CEEDS researcher. What is it about CEEDS that she finds so exciting? 'As archaeologists, we have to process and try and find meaningful connections in incredibly large databases. CEEDS offers a variety of technologies to facilitate this process, such as new algorithms for data-mining, but also augmented reality applications. 'With the help of the CEEDS technologies, we not only have a better understanding of our data, but we are also able to bring it to the general public in an accessible manner.'
This last point is particularly important for Piccoli as she is a specialist in the virtual reconstruction of ancient Greek cities. 'If people are able to really imagine themselves in the historical period, it raises awareness, both of the local heritage, and of the work that archaeologists do. And for me personally, the collaboration with computer scientists and mathematicians is highly stimulating.'
CEEDS also serves an educational purpose: making use of bio-feedback, the virtual reality based system allows non-specialist users to be guided through and to replicate the process of discovery that occurs in the brains of scientists. Soon, we will all be able to experience how great discoveries come about. In our own minds.
(10 May 2011 / Véronique van Gelderen / Josée Koning)