Technology helps scientists track eye movements in a virtual Pompeiian house. By examining what catches observers’ eyes today, they hope to understand more about ancient Roman design.
In A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted. It blanketed Pompeii, Italy, in ash and killed thousands of people, but preserved sizable areas of the town.
Recently, Swedish researchers created a simulation of an elaborate Pompeiian home. They combined virtual reality (VR), 3-D geographic information, and cutting-edge eye-tracking methods to analyze gaze (head position), fixation (aim of the eyes when still), and movement. The technology lets visitors “walk” through the house while computers track eye movements.
Researchers then assess which parts of the house drew the most attention—and thereby predict how ancient visitors might have interacted with the actual space. Studying visual observation habits helps scientists to grasp what viewers find significant.
Archaeologists Danilo Campanaro and Giacomo Landeschi borrowed data from a 3-D Pompeii mapping project. They also used excavation findings and knowledge of Roman architecture to explore the purposes of Roman construction choices.
In addition, the pair uploaded decorative and architectural features of a Pompeiian mansion known as the House of the Epigrams to create a virtual model. They imported their model into a video game engine (platform for making games) called Unity.
The team then enlisted volunteers to explore the virtual space. Computers recorded their visual path through the reconstructed Pompeiian house: What caught their eyes and for how long?
Campanaro says the study “show[s] how the owner of the house stimulated the visitor’s senses to convey a message about its power and wealth.”
For example, the house’s exterior showed traditional Roman features. But inner areas revealed an emphasis on popular-yet-taboo at the time Greek culture.
“VR is often used to improve the visitor experience at a museum or an archaeological site,” Landeschi says. “We wanted to show that together with other technologies, it can be used as a research tool rather than just an educational tool.”
Researchers may expand future VR experiences to replicate the smells and sounds of a historical site.
Drones and artificial intelligence are also at work these days at ancient Pompeii. And a four-legged robot dog named SPOT helps inspect Pompeiian buildings and streets. Equipped with a 360-degree camera, SPOT gathers data about safety and structural issues. SPOT also serves as a true high-tech watchdog, helping protect the city from illegal relic hunters who damage the ruins by digging tunnels.
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. — Proverbs 101:3
Why? God grants humans with the ability to appreciate architecture, art, and design through a variety of senses. Finding how best to utilize those gifts is worthy of study.