This highly interdisciplinary course approaches fundamental issues in Anthropology and Computer Science. Using an anthropological perspective, this course focuses on the history, theory, and methods of how archaeology and visualizations of the past are created, presented and used in scholarly media (e.g., traditional publications, conference papers, and project databases), an popular culture (e.g., artist's reconstructions, movies, TV documentaries, museum exhibits, games, the internet, and art), and contemporary computer techniques (e.g., 3D modeling, animation, virtual reality, and simulation).
From the computer science perspective, the challenge becomes how we (can best) transform known and often incomplete information into engaging digital models and plausible visualizations of a past culture and its people. Students learn modern 3D modeling using Autodesk Maya, animation using the UnReal game engine, and whole body motion capture.
The course assignments include writing essays critiquing popular media depictions of the past, in-class oral presentations with visual aids, 3D model development, and a final project that utilizes contemporary computational tools to explain, visualize, and animate culturally relevant situations, questions, knowledge, or hypotheses.
Presentations by the instructors include relevant anthropological background materials and tutorials on the computational tools to be used, and the thought processes needed to connect the two. The course material itself is broad and requires additional conceptual integration by the student. To facilitate this process, the instructors use the SEAS Open Learning Classroom, the ViDi Center for hands-on modeling, animation, and motion capture exercises, and the Penn Museum collections for Object-Based Learning.