Digital Archaeology: for some fun while you're stuck inside

In this time of uncertainty, in the midst of a global health crisis, and with the critical need for social distancing, it is not possible to travel to archaeological sites around the world, or even within your own city as we are all urged to #staysafestayhome. I had some exciting travel planned to share with you that unfortunately could not go ahead and am among many thousands of people who have had to cancel travel plans.

Even though we find ourselves at home at the moment and into at least the short term future, archaeological exploration can still be done digitally from your couch, bed or garden. I touched on this briefly in my Accessibility in Archaeology article. Here are some websites that you can explore for a bit of entertainment and learning from the comfort of your own home.

Virtual Excavations

There are a few virtual excavation games or activities that I came across online. The age range they are targetted towards does vary, but they cover some of the basic archaeological principles in a fun, entertaining form. 

Dirt Detective

Although the Dirt Detective game is aimed at children it is pretty fun for adults too and uses a cute mole dressed in early settler clothing to teach you about archaeological layers (stratigraphy), and what artefacts can tell us about each other, through an interactive interface. This is a short activity that takes about 15 minutes.

Basin Depot

The Basin Depot game on the Land of the Spirits website simulates an archaeological excavation where you are instructed by archaeologist Max to excavate, find and record different artefacts. Though quite simple, taking about 15 minutes, the game lets you choose which area of the site you would like to excavate and is based on the actual site of Little Bonnechere on Bonnechere River in the Ottawa Valley, Canada. These lands were home to the local Indigenous peoples for a long time, and more recently also were used by immigrant settlers, with both groups interacting with the landscape in various ways. You can explore the website for more information about the site and its collections.


Excavate! is a more complex game that is available in both English and Polish, originating in Poland. You are the director of an archaeological excavation at an old cemetery in Poland and start by picking your team based on their varying levels of expertise in different skills. You then have the opportunity to select your tools (with limited finances) and start the excavation, choosing different members of your team to dig, clean, and record artefacts before you send finds back to the university. The more finds you send back to the university, the more tools you can purchase to assist in your excavation. Try to excavate as many artefacts as possible to demonstrate that you can run a successful archaeological excavation.

Hunt the Ancestor

The BBC Game Hunt the Ancestor simulates a situation in which developers are wanting to move onto the site of a dig at an ancient burial site where you are an archaeologist. Like the previous game, you have a limited budget in which to achieve your project aims, but this game simulates real life archaeology in more depth, including opportunities to explore local records offices, conduct site surveys, then excavate and record your findings. 

You can find out more about archaeology on BBC History's Archaeology page, which includes a quiz combined with a jigsaw puzzle Dig Deeper and a few other interactive games as well.

Online Museum Tours

The British Museum 

The first public national museum in the world, the British Museum, has collaborated with Google to create a Museum of the World timeline stretching from the present day to 2 million years BCE, with artefacts from all regions of the world in the museum collection dotted onto it. Individual objects can be clicked into to see an enlarged image, hear any related audio clips, and see related objects that may be of interest. The connections between different objects are highlighted in a visually expressive manner, creating a path of distinctive artefacts that will lead you on a learning journey.

The Louvre

The Parisian Louvre, another of the most famous museums in the world, also offers online tours of its Egyptian antiquities collection, along with a virtual tour of the moat of the original Louvre fortress, constructed in 1190, and the Galerie d'Apollon, which was destroyed by fire in the 17th century and then rebuilt in a decorative arts style. On these tours you can move around the Louvre galleries within the building, following whichever path takes your fancy, and learning about different artefacts and exhibits.

Pergamon Museum

Berlin's iconic Pergamon Museum is located on Museum Island in the centre of the city and can be explored using the ingenuity of Google Maps. The museum houses amazing archaeological finds, including the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, the Pergamon Altar from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon and the Market Gate of Miletus from the ancient Roman city of Miletus, both in modern-day Turkey. Explore the halls of the museum from inside and experience the exhibits as if you were really there.

Digital Archaeological Sites

Google Arts & Culture Open Heritage

Google Arts & Culture Open Heritage is an amazing resource that lets you explore archaeological and heritage sites around the world, from temples, to rock art, to sacred sites. Virtual exploration using images, 3D visualisations and online exhibitions are accompanied by field notes, stories and interesting snippets of information. 

Open Heritage is aimed at preserving cultural heritage through recording and disseminating information among the public. Monuments and sites are digitally preserved, with special focus on buildings and sites that are at greater risk of destruction, including a section devoted to heritage in Syria. There is so much to explore, covering the entire spectrum of interests, and this is a great way to immersively experience places around the world at this time when we are unable to travel.

Open Heritage 3D

Similar to Google's Open Heritage project (although more technical), and supported by Google Arts & Culture, is the Open Heritage 3D project which has information on archaeological sites using various scientific data types including LIDAR (surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with laser light and measuring the reflected light with a sensor) and photogrammetry (obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant imagery and other phenomena). 

The website has data from published sites across the continents, and the spatial data is downloadable. Many of the published sites also have online exhibitions which are hosted through Google Arts & Culture.

Digital Karnak

Lastly, Digital Karnak is a digitisation project by the University of California, Los Angeles, that uses 3D modelling technology to create a series of videos giving virtual tours of the Temple of Karnak, a temple complex built over almost 2000 years starting in the Middle Kingdom (approximately 2000-1700 BCE) in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes on the Nile River. The modelling explores a range of themes including architecture, festival processions and daily ritual. 

This is just one of a growing number of digitisation projects aimed at recording and preserving the cultural heritage of individual archaeological sites.



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