A virtual model and digital resources help students and instructors to learn about the historic, sacred site.
By Caroline Blackburn
FOR THE PAST two years, a team of UCLA Egyptologists, digital modelers, web designers, staff and students has been building a three-dimensional virtual-reality model of the ancient Egyptian religious site known as Karnak, one of the largest temple complexes ever constructed.
The result is Digital Karnak, a high-tech model that runs in real time and allows users to navigate 2,000 years of history at the popular ancient Egyptian tourist site near modern-day Luxor, where generations of pharaohs constructed temples, chapels, obelisks, sphinxes, shrines and other sacred structures beginning in the 20th century B.C.
Developed by UCLA's Experiential Technologies Center — which has helped pioneer the digital reconstruction of historical sites, including the innovative Rome Reborn, released in 2006 — the Karnak model and a host of additional digital resources are now available for educators, students, scholars and the public to explore for free at http://dlib.etc.ucla.edu/projects/Karnak.
The website features videos from the 3-D model, instructional resources for educators, a Google Earth version of the model and pages detailing the chronology and construction of individual structures at the temple complex. The collective resources offer a window onto the incredibly rich architectural, religious, economic, social and political history of ancient Egypt.
"The Digital Karnak project builds upon UCLA's expertise merging research and multidimensional technologies to inform and preserve knowledge about historic sites," said project director Diane Favro, a professor in the architecture and urban design department at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. "This learning platform allows educators and researchers to geo-temporally situate information and thus visualize and interrogate the evolution of Karnak over 2,000 years."
In recent years, scientists, historians and archaeologists around the world have embraced the 3-D modeling of cultural heritage sites. Information technology has permitted them to recreate buildings and monuments that no longer exist or to digitally restore sites that have been damaged by the passage of time. The results can be used both in research, to test new theories, and in teaching, to take students on virtual tours of historical sites they are studying.
The Experiential Technologies Center (ETC) at UCLA, which promotes the critical incorporation of new technologies into research and teaching, has been a leader in this cutting-edge movement, having digitally reconstructed a wide variety of sites of historical and cultural importance in Europe, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean.
Favro, who directs the ETC, brings her expertise as an architectural and urban historian to these digital cultural-mapping projects, as well as her familiarity with the challenges and impact of large-scale interdisciplinary projects.
Digital Karnak co-director Willeke Wendrich is an associate professor of Egyptian archaeology in the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and director of the Egyptian Lab at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. She is the editor-in-chief of the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, an award-winning digital encyclopedia that has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities since 2005. She is also a member of the Science Board of Digital Antiquity.
The Digital Karnak project is funded and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Steinmetz Family of Los Angeles.