Thinking through the tool: collaborative archaeological bodywork in immersive virtual reality




virtual reality, interpretation, embodiment, photogrammetry, Andean archaeology, cultural heritage, 3D documentation


Thanks to currently available very high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) models via photogrammetric techniques as a primary method of archaeological documentation, constructing immersive, high-fidelity simulacra is imminently possible. This paper considers how the scale at which the human body interacts with immersive digital models is especially important for understanding the affordances and ergonomics of past things and places. The implications of this isometry between archaeological objects of analysis and emerging capabilities to interact with them through digital surrogates in the present are manifold. By enabling interaction with objects and contexts in immersive virtual space, such observational experiences create in silico engagements that are repeatable, distributable, and collaborative. In particular, it is the collaborative capacity of this technology that this paper explores using online immersive virtual reality (iVR). Collaborative online iVR is used in this research as a key instrument for enhancing understanding and reinterpreting the digital records of two archaeological sites under excavation in Peru. The case studies analyzed show a variety of cultural, geographic, and temporal contexts in the Andean region, which illustrates the broad potential of iVR for archaeological hermeneutics. Through iVR frameworks, the authors engage with embodied reconsiderations of Catholic ritual spaces within a planned colonial town in the southern Peruvian highlands and the pre-Columbian site of Huaca Colorada on the north coast. Synchronous scalar experiences that privilege the affordances of architectural space within digital models create opportunities for embodied experience and collaborative dialogue. A fundamental argument is the capacity to digitally inhabit these places and manipulate materials holds subtle as well as profound epistemological and hermeneutic implications for archaeological knowledge construction.


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Author Biographies

Giles Spence Morrow, Vanderbilt University

Department of Anthropology

Steven A. Wernke, Vanderbilt University

Department of Anthropology


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How to Cite

Spence Morrow, G., & Wernke, S. A. (2023). Thinking through the tool: collaborative archaeological bodywork in immersive virtual reality. Virtual Archaeology Review, 15(30), 21–34.




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