A University of Virginia-based Virtual Reality project Rome Reborn 1.0, that aims to digitally reconstruct ancient Rome has recently received a lot of media attention. I somehow feel that the story has been heard before. Here is an example of their digital model of the Roman Forum:
Empty space. The western end of Forum Romanum in the Rome Reborn model. Copyright of the Regents of the University of California 2007.
Notice the absence of signs of life – no people, no animals, no junk, no noises, no smells, no decay. Did Rome ever really look like this? The scene is utterly stripped of all the clutter that is what really fascinates us about the past. The burning question is whether this kind of (expensive and technology-heavy) representation really gives us fundamentally new insights into the past? From what I’ve seen so far of this project, I’m not convinced that this is the case.