Last November, three American students studying in Egypt were arrested as they watched the protests leading up to parliamentary elections from a rooftop in Tahrir Square. That’s sure to freak out parents whose budding Egyptologists are lobbying for Cairo-based study abroad programs.
Rest easy, 'rents. With new 3-D software, developed by the French firm Dassault Systèmes, Harvard University, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, anyone with a computer can roam the famous Giza plateau and wander through its pyramids for an archeologist’s close-up look at the mummies, tombs, shafts, and artifacts as they look now—and might have looked when pharaohs were in residence—without worrying about ending up in a damp cell in Cairo.
Giza 3D was officially unveiled at the Boston museum earlier this week.
The software is already being used in Harvard’s Egyptology courses. "The project has allowed my students and colleagues to visualize the Giza data and update and integrate them in a way that was not possible in the past," says Peter Der Manuelian, the Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology at Harvard. That means students and online viewers can see 3-D objects from multiple angles: Things like inscriptions on the back of a statue, or close-ups that you couldn’t do if you were viewing an object in a museum’s glass case.
Harvard and the MFA have a long history of collaborating on Egyptian research. In 1905, George Reisner, the father of scientific archeology, directed a joint Harvard-MFA expedition at the Giza Plateau, uncovering thousands of artifacts, and pioneering field photography as part of the archeological process. He eventually died, almost totally blind, at the Harvard Camp at Giza in 1942.
Over the past 10 years, the museum’s world-class collection of photos, diaries, drawings, and documents from Giza have been digitized and made available online by the MFA. Those artifacts and documents are part of the Giza interactive site, along with skillful recreations of what daily life in the time of the pharaohs might have looked like.
Dassault Systèmes has a long history of developing 3-D systems for business customers in aerospace, consumer goods, medical devices, and the automotive industry, but this is the first time they’ve ventured into the classroom. They hope this project will be the start of a line of work that will change education, research, and the ability to share knowledge with a wide audience.
"Today, the archeological site of Giza is within reach of everyone," says Monica Menghini, executive vice president, industry, Dassault Systèmes. "A simple home computer is sufficient to experience the wonders of Ancient Egypt and with a 3-D TV it is possible to have an immersive stereoscopic experience. The use of immersive rooms permits viewers to travel in space and time with unrivaled realism."