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Interpretation at the Controller’s Edge: Designing Graphical User Interfaces for the Digital Publication of the Excavations at Gabii (Italy)

Rachel S. Opitz
  • Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies and Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, 1 University Drive, Fayetteville, AR 72701
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Tyler D. Johnson
  • Department of Classical Studies, University of Arkansas, 1 University Drive, Fayetteville, AR 72701
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2016-03-15 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2016-0001


This paper discusses the authors’ approach to designing an interface for the Gabii Project’s digital volumes that attempts to fuse elements of traditional synthetic publications and site reports with rich digital datasets. Archaeology, and classical archaeology in particular, has long engaged with questions of the formation and lived experience of towns and cities. Such studies might draw on evidence of local topography, the arrangement of the built environment, and the placement of architectural details, monuments and inscriptions (e.g. Johnson and Millett 2012). Fundamental to the continued development of these studies is the growing body of evidence emerging from new excavations. Digital techniques for recording evidence “on the ground,” notably SFM (structure from motion aka close range photogrammetry) for the creation of detailed 3D models and for scene-level modeling in 3D have advanced rapidly in recent years. These parallel developments have opened the door for approaches to the study of the creation and experience of urban space driven by a combination of scene-level reconstruction models (van Roode et al. 2012, Paliou et al. 2011, Paliou 2013) explicitly combined with detailed SFM or scanning based 3D models representing stratigraphic evidence. It is essential to understand the subtle but crucial impact of the design of the user interface on the interpretation of these models. In this paper we focus on the impact of design choices for the user interface, and make connections between design choices and the broader discourse in archaeological theory surrounding the practice of the creation and consumption of archaeological knowledge. As a case in point we take the prototype interface being developed within the Gabii Project for the publication of the Tincu House. In discussing our own evolving practices in engagement with the archaeological record created at Gabii, we highlight some of the challenges of undertaking theoretically-situated user interface design, and their implications for the publication and study of archaeological materials.

Keywords: Design; Intra-site applications; Close Range Sensing; Virtual Reality and Cyber-Archaeology; Digital Publication


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About the article

Received: 2015-12-07

Accepted: 2016-01-24

Published Online: 2016-03-15

Citation Information: Open Archaeology, Volume 2, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-6560, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2016-0001.

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