Touring Virtually: The Virtual World Project

This online tool shows us how we can walk through archaeological sites without actually being there.

If you are looking for a way to tour some fascinating archaeological sites without spending a dime or a great deal of time, Dr. Nicolae Roddy and Ronald Simkins of Creighton University have developed a viable option worth considering: The “Virtual World Project”.  It is a web-based teaching and study tool that presents interactive virtual reality tours of the ancient world. Updated continuously, it is an ongoing project with a primary focus on the Levant, although one will also find there some of the best known classical sites of ancient Greece and Turkey. To date, many important archaeological sites in Israel, Jordan, Turkey and Greece have been extensively photographed and graphically represented to allow the visitor to “walk” through the sites, many of which offer an audio component as well. The real fun, however, is in the personal control the website user has to explore the area and features of the ancient sites. From a selected start point, you can choose your “walking” direction and pace and control the area of your visual scan. For most of us, for the present, this is as close as we are going to get to these places.

For example:  If you are like me, you may suffer a little nostalgia for the places you have been as a dig participant.  One of those places for me  was the excavation project at Bethsaida, the ancient city near the Sea of Galilee where Jesus performed miracles and where several of his apostles were born.  No need to hop on a plane and spend some money.  I go to a website where I can view photos of the site and, even more exciting, “walk” through the site with an interactive visual tool that allows me to see some of my old stomping grounds.  I do a little exploring.   Ah, yes…….there is that amazing Iron Age city gate complex where I spent so much time in the unforgiving heat and dust painstakingly uncovering the collapsed remains of the adjacent tower…..along with the companionship of a few colleagues, of course.  But it looks a little different.  Subsequent excavation has transformed its appearance. I walk through to see the latest photographed views. 

Iron Age City Gate with High Place at Bethsaida. Courtesy Virtual World Project and Bethsaida Excavations Project

Satisfied with this, I move on to check out another site I have always wanted to tour — Herodium.  Arriving there, I choose my vantage point and then scan a panorama of the site from a high point atop what remains of King Herod’s ancient palace complex.   A wonderful view.   I choose a few other vantage points and, before the hour is gone, I have a familiarity with the site that could only be exceeded by being physically there.   “O.K.,” I think to myself.  “If I thought this was good, let’s try Masada”.  This is the high rock plateau in the Judean desert where King Herod built one of his many palaces and, as most of us know from the popular literature, where a band of Jewish Zealots made their stand against the mighty Roman Tenth Legion during the First Jewish Revolt in 72-73 A.D.  Standing where perhaps one of these Zealots once stood, I peer down over the edge at a scene reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in the U.S., except that below I see the clear outlines of what was once the great Roman encampment of the Tenth Legion siege forces.  An incredible view.

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Herod’s Tomb at Herodium. Courtesy Alexandra Roddy and the Virtual World Project.

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View of the Roman Encampment below Masada, as viewed from Masada. Courtesy Steve Schwartz and the Virtual World Project.

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There is much more to explore at this website. Experience it for yourself by going to www.virtualworldproject.org.

Top photo: The Lion Gate from outside the fortress at Mycenae, Greece. Courtesy Molly Sloan and the Virtual World Project.


Dan McLerran

As Founder and Editor of Popular Archaeology Magazine, Dan is a freelance writer and journalist specializing in archaeology.  He studied anthropology and archaeology in undergraduate and graduate school and has been an active participant on archaeological excavations in the U.S. and abroad.  He is the creator and administrator of Archaeological Digs, a popular weblog about archaeological excavation and field school opportunities.