Beyond the landscape: analysis of Neolithic circular ditch systems of Lower Austria with advanced virtual archaeoastronomy

Georg Zotti, Wolfgang Neubauer

Abstract

This paper describes developments in virtual archaeology that started in a research project about the possible astronomical entrance orientation of Neolithic circular ditch systems (German Kreisgrabenanlagen, KGA) of Lower Austria. Starting from data analysis in a Geographical Information System (GIS), we will cover a simple way of modelling, and discuss three ways of visualisation for the combination of landscape and human-made buildings together with celestial objects. The first way involves extensions to the modelling program SketchUp to bring in just enough astronomical data for scientific evaluation. The second introduces a set of extensions to the open-source desktop planetarium program Stellarium, which can meanwhile be used to load a standard 3D model format to allow detailed research in astronomical orientation patterns, and light-and-shadow interaction over many millennia, even for researchers less familiar with astronomical programming. The third presents a “serious gaming” approach, which can provide the most natural view of the landscape, but requires at least some, if not deep, familiarity with astronomical and 3D computer graphics programming and, therefore, due to this considerably larger effort, appears to be mostly useful for outreach of high-profile results to the public. The entrances to the KGA of Lower Austria turned out to be mostly oriented following a purely terrestrial pattern of up- and downward sloping terrain, but with one noteworthy exception.

Highlights:

  • Virtual archaeology can help to better understand archaeological remains embedded in the landscape. Occasionally, the “landscape” concept must be extended to include the celestial landscape.

  • Open-source development allowed the combination of a desktop planetarium with 3D landscape and architecture visualisation. Also, datable changes in the landscape can meanwhile be simulated.

  • Astronomical elements added to a game engine can also be used to faithfully provide important insights while providing the most appealing visualisation environments so far, but with considerably more effort.


Keywords

Virtual archaeology; Landscape archaeology; Digital archaeology; Serious game; 3D reconstruction

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