"The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is...." -Marcel Proust
The Other Eyes project confronts an emerging issue within archaeology: that of interpreting past people using digital technology. For over 350 years scientists have sought to recreate the worlds inhabited by our human ancestors using drawings, models and dioramas. Using 21st century digital technology, we can now use DNA recovered from skeletal remains to make 3D digital avatars of past people. But what benefits might this bring and what questions does it raise? How do we digitally reconstruct past people and does the authenticity matter? Does the ability to digitally embody a past person of a different age, sex, or with a disability change the way we think about the past? Are there significant differences between traditional 2D illustrations, museum models, and 3D avatars in the representation and understanding of past people? What are the ethics of "resurrecting" past people based on bioarchaeological evidence and can (and should) reconstructions of past people be archived to encourage their creative reuse?
The Other Eyes project aims to better understand and transmit the experiences of past people using virtual embodiment and immersive technologies. We draw from bioarchaeological life histories to create avatars based on Roman-era skeletons excavated in York. These human remains have shown that many past people experienced altered mobility, whereas reconstructions privilege a normative, able-bodied perspective.
By creating avatars from bioarchaeological evidence we aim to fundamentally alter how academics and the general public understand and interpret the past. We seek to understand the history, context and ethics of reconstructing past people from a multicultural viewpoint and explore the capacity for these reconstructions to evoke empathetic responses from present people. With project partners BetaJester and the Yorkshire Museum we will explore the use of these avatars within a mixed reality setting and encourage engagement from audiences who may not otherwise engage with archaeological research.