GLAMi nomination: Ancient Phalasarna

nominated by: Gunnar Liestøl, University of Oslo, Norway
institution: Dept. of Media & Communication, University of Oslo & The Association for Ancient Phalasarna
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension

The ‘Phalasarna’ app for iPhone and iPad is a situated simulation from Ancient Phalasarna on Crete and is available for free download on Apple’s App Store. It tells the dramatic story of this ancient city with its spectacular closed harbour and its ultimate destruction by the Romans.

Figure 1: The ‘Phalasarna’ app in use in the ancient harbour, which today is 6.5 meters above sea level. With the use of the app it is easy for the visitors to understand what this ancient city really looked like.

In 333BCE Ancient Phalasarna was turned into a unique fortified harbour built with Persian funding to be used as the main naval base on Crete against Alexander the Great’s forces. From here Spartans, Persians and Greeks hoped to retake the Greek islands and Asia Minor from the Macedonians, cut off Alexander’s supply routes, and prevent his attack against the great King Darius of Persia. However, Alexander defeated this master plan. Nevertheless, the city was left with a magnificent military port that harboured the Phalasarnian triremes for centuries to come. The ancient city was finally destoyed by the Romans in 69 BCE. By that time the inhabitants had turned to piracy and were attacked by Roman forces under the command of general Metellus ‘Creticus’. The Ancient Phalasarna site has been under research excavation since the late 1980s directed by Dr. Elpida Hadjidaki.

Figure 2. A montage of the real Phalasarna of today and the reconstructed Phalasarna of Antiquity as seen from the acropolis hill nearby.

In 2010 we developed the first situated simulation AR prototype reconstructing Ancient Phalasarna as of 333 BCE. In 2013 we extended the test version to also include 69 BCE and the Roman attack and destruction of the city. These indirect augmented reality simulations worked well in showing extensive reconstructions, but they did little to explain the meaning and function of the structures visible on the site today. The figurative difference was just too extensive between the past and the present.

As a consequence we saw a need to create a digital environment that could serve in an intermediate role, a type of mixed reality solution without the shortcomings of traditonal mobile mixed reality (lack of compatibility between 2D video and 3D graphics). We decided to create a digital environment representing the terrain and structures of the site as it is today. The reconstruction of the current environment has been created using photogrammetry from UAV and ground photos. High resolution and accuracy in the mesh and texture of the new model is focused on the parts of the site which have visible remains of buildings, fortification walls etc. With this “Quasi–Mixed Reality” method it is possible to show, with high accuracy, the past state of a building in combination with its present state. We see this “Quasi–Mixed Reality” form of AR as an important form of experimentation while we are awaiting real–time 3D–rendering of the immediate environment on mobile and wearable devices, which – we assume – will finally solve the shortcomings of current MR.

The ‘Phalasarna’ application contains the following features, among others:

– Timeline for switching between present, 69 BC and 330 BC
– Spatially distributed hypertext links for access to detailed information (text, images, audio, 3D-objects, marking of objects, animations etc.)
– Animation of the Roman attack (Metellus Creticus) in 69 BC
– Map View to track where you have been, where you are and what you have left to explore.
– Standard views like bird’s view, zoom, detail view (3D) and fly in.
– Partial reconstructions to show relationship between current remains and reconstructions.
– Quiz for testing of acquired knowledge awarded by diploma which can be shared online (Facebook, Twitter, Mail)
– Snapshot to create Now/Then montage by taking a photo with both the virtual and the physical camera. Can then be shared online.

The current version of the Ancient Phalasarna application was published in the fall of 2017. This aracheological site has no visiting center and the closest museum is 20 km away in Kissamos – this is also where the excavated artefacts are stored and some are on display in the small exhibition. This app is thus the only offer visitors have to experience the unique history of the site on location.

The ‘Phalasarna’ app has been tested and evaluated by visitors on location on several occasions. The feedback has been very positive and we intend to update the app in the near future to include more of its fascinating history and the recent results of Dr. Hadjidaki’s excavations.

The ‘Phalasarna’ application is a collaboration between University of Oslo (Dept. of Media & Communication), The Association for Ancient Phalasarna, CodeGrind AB and Tag of Joy.