Introduction to Virtual Globes
Virtual globes are rapidly becoming an easy and accessible way of finding, distributing and visualizing all sorts of data in a geographical context. The basis of this technology are the confluence of centuries of geometric and cartographic techniques, the increasing availability of previously limited satellite data in the public sphere, and the attractive 'virtual reality' of science fiction computer games and cinematography, all linked by some clever image compression techniques over the ever broadening bandwidth of the internet. Google Earth, NASA WorldWind and ESRI's ArcExplorer all allow the integration of a large amount of data over satellite image and terrain data. Obviously each software has advantages and disadvantage, though expect some convergence between them.
For archaeology, these new tools allow the interested amateur and seasoned professional alike to zoom scales from outer space to the scale of site plans, and in the future, potentially could zoom down to one-to-one or even smaller-scales. Camera angles can be tilted, and points and layers added and removed at will. That data can be added easily by almost anyone, means a massive democraticization of geographical representation, but this increases the need for good scholarly verification and a critical consideration of the meaning of the data presented. The transfer of traditional paper-based gazetteers of site locations, and comparison with many published maps will reveal the relative imprecision of the locational information that has been available to archaeologists in the past. It also introduces new ethical issues of archaeological site protection, with the questions over whether accurate site co-ordinates should be distributed, if they may be used by looters as well as archaeologists.
The ability to zoom between vastly different geographical scales to explore the full range of archaeological questions was an essential part of Andrew Sherratt's original intellectual foundation for ArchAtlas as an interpretative archaeological atlas, and he believed these tools would facilitate part of what he had been trying to do for 30 years in the integration of global, regional and local scales of geo-archaeological analysis.
Here at ArchAtlas, we'd like to hear what people are doing with these tools, and are willing to host or publish on this site, results, links and experimental projects, which are relevant to the field of archaeology. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the feedback form.
ArchAtlas Virtual Globe Extensions
To use these Extensions, you must first have installed the relevant virtual globe visualizer. Please see the relevant links for information on how to download: Google Earth, NASA WorldWind, ESRI ArcExplorer, or Skyline TerraExplorer etc.
Please note that extensions are not available for all viewers at present. Data is provided 'as is': while every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, users are cautioned that this is a working database and should not be relied upon without further confirmation. The site's normal disclaimer also still applies.