How Harvard University Uses Rumii Virtual Reality Software to Explore The Giza Pyramids with Zhejiang University in China

“As far as we know, this was the first time that Americans and Chinese met in virtual space under the watchful gaze of the ancient Egyptian Sphinx!”  - Peter Der Manuelian - Harvard University

“As far as we know, this was the first time that Americans and Chinese met in virtual space under the watchful gaze of the ancient Egyptian Sphinx!”

- Peter Der Manuelian - Harvard University

The Giza Project, a non-profit international initiative based at Harvard University, assembles information about all the archaeological activity at the world’s most famous site: the Giza Pyramids and surrounding cemeteries and settlements. Using digital archaeology, the Project incorporates all types of media, from old excavation photos and diaries to modern digital technologies, to produce powerful online and traditional academic research tools and new teaching methods.

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The Giza Project is the backbone for many of the undergraduate and graduate courses in Egyptology at Harvard University. This past fall 2018 semester, our Giza class (Anthropology 1250, “The Pyramids of Giza: Technology, Archaeology, History”) consisted not only of lectures, student presentations, and 3D VR tours around the Giza Pyramids—both above and below ground—in our special visualization classroom, but this time we connected live with students at Zhejiang University in China.

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The technological challenges were numerous, and even the time zones didn’t help, as our 10:30am class was simultaneously an 11:30 pm class in China. But eventually the Harvard and the Chinese students were able to interact, study Giza together, and build one more modest but gratifying bridge to international understanding between our two countries. This achievement was largely due to the hard work and technical prowess of Harvard’s virtual reality designer, Rus Gant, assistant Josh Widdicombe, and Dr. Changyu Diao, Harvard’s visiting computer science and cultural heritage expert assisting the Giza Project for 2018-2019.

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Since we couldn’t meet physically, one of our goals was to meet virtually, with the use of immersive Oculus Go headsets and we chose to experiment with rumii. Each student, and the instructor, had his or her own avatar, and we prepared some sample 3D models from our Giza Plateau site (http://giza.fas.harvard.edu) for the students to explore wearing their VR headsets. The experience was novel and exciting for the majority of students involved. The interface should become even more natural in future iterations, as some of the bandwidth and server issues between the US and China improve over time. As far as we know, this was the first time that Americans and Chinese met in virtual space under the watchful gaze of the ancient Egyptian Sphinx!

Peter Der Manuelian, Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology 

Harvard University 

For those interested in learning more about Giza, see the free online MOOC course through the EdX/HarvardX online learning platform:

https://www.edx.org/course/pyramids-of-giza-ancient-egyptian-art-and-archaeology-0


The Giza Project Facebook page is

https://www.facebook.com/The-Giza-Project-at-Harvard-University-1872145656335515/

Download rumii for your classroom at http://dogheadsimulations.com