Shawn Graham over at the “Electric Archaeology” weblog has a post asking about the use of 2nd Life to teach archaeology. There is a UC Berkeley Catalhoyuk reconstruction in 2nd Life now, intended to be a teaching resource (it won an “Open Archaeology Prize“). He has some very interesting ideas about linking archaeological databases dynamically with the virtual world.

I think it’ll be really useful to connect Second Life with different archaeological databases for visualization. 2nd Life does support connections with other online data sources, or web services, (see link). I’ve never done any programming in Second Life, so I’m not sure what sorts of limits the system has in reading outside data.

At any rate, outside databases would have to express data in a machine-readable format so the Second Life scripting language could parse the information. XML is an obvious choice, but there needs to be lots of thought on how to apply it to support Second Life visualization.

Most archaeological datasets that I’ve seen don’t have enough spatial information to make an easy and precise mapping into a virtual world. For example, many finds are in “bulk find” category, and you’ll only know their spatial context approximately (from say from a specific contextual unit). The contextual units, their size, shape, and relative positioning may be very poorly recorded and documented. Thus, rendering in Second Life will require lots of guestimation.

Shawn mentions Open Context in his post as an example data source. Open Context does make XML data available for all media, locations & objects, and for its faceted browse. Examples:

(1) Here’s a link to XML data for all small finds from Petra that have pictures (from the faceted browse).

(2) Here’s a link to XML data for a specific sheep radius from Petra.

(3) Here’s another link to XML data for an elephant capital also from Petra.

Although there’s contextual information, the contexts don’t have very clear spatial referencing, so it’ll be hard to simply put these data into a good Second Life 3D view. Having some clear common standard for spatial referencing in 3D will be really useful, as well as clear conventions on how to visualize archaeological data when detailed spatial referencing isn’t available.