From Virtual Reality to virtual restitution: How 3D-Egyptology can contribute to decolonizing the field and the question of digital copies vs the original
Chapter from the book: Palladino C. & Bodard G. 2023. Can’t Touch This: Digital Approaches to Materiality in Cultural Heritage.
3D digital and printed replicas of various ancient Egyptian antiquities, from statues and busts to coffins, stelas and other magical objects, are becoming increasingly popular on the web as well as in museums, but some issues and challenges related to replicas and copies in the study and fruition of the ancient Egyptian heritage remain, which include difficult questions of intellectual property rights and accessibility of the virtual platforms where the replicas are shared. The 3D models of the ancient Egyptian coffins produced for the “Book of the Dead in 3D” project housed at the University of California, Berkeley, will be taken as a case-study to analyze and discuss those issues. Given the importance of annotations on 3D models of an inscribed artifact such as an ancient Egyptian coffin, this article will also discuss the materiality of the text and its digital reproduction, and how the metadata of a historical object and its text decoration need to be produced “responsibly” and according to museum ethics, to ensure sustainability and access in the language of origin of the artifact.
The issue of “decolonization” will be analyzed in relation to the use of Virtual and Augmented Reality in the digital reconstructions of archaeological sites, monuments, and artifacts in Egypt, through examples of VR apps such as “From the Museum to the Tomb”, a joint project of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, where a 26th Dynasty’s stone sarcophagus is virtually replaced in his tomb and analyzed in its original ritual space.