Rua H.,Alvito P. (2011). Living the past: 3D models, virtual reality and game engines as tools for supporting archaeology and the reconstruction of cultural heritage – the case-study of the Roman villa of Casal de Freiria. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38 (12): 3296-3308.
“Learn about the past to better understand the present and predict the future”. Although used abundantly to justify our interest in ancient societies, this statement lacks practical meaning due to the high degree of uncertainty which cloaks archaeological studies and theories, and the fact that there is no real way to prove or validate them. That is why it is so important to approach this study from a multidisciplinary point of view, providing several inputs which complement each other and so maximize the amount of factual information drawn from the analysis. Even then, the study will never be truly complete because there will always be a missing document, a small trace of an object (Verhagen, 2008), that still needs to be analysed. This paper aims to be a useful contribution to historical research, specifically to the study of architectural history. Its purpose is to create a series of methods and tools for testing and analysing theories and hypotheses for historical scenarios (Vasáros, 2008) through the use of 3D modelling tools and Virtual Reality (VR) engines. The project was developed in two stages: The first was the creation of several three-dimensional (3D) models, each representing a different theory or hypothesis. The models were based on accurate Computer Assisted Design (CAD) (Autodesk® AutoCAD) models for the reconstruction of the buildings, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (ESRI®) for the recreation of the terrain, thereby creating a realistic representation of what exists now, and a close approximation to what may have once existed. In the second stage, a simplified version of the models was imported into a Virtual Reality (VR) game engine (Bethesda Softworks®) to create the ambience of the villa at the time, allowing full exploration of the space. It also includes fauna and flora, as well as Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven avatars, as can be seen in the Video 1 provided in the electronic version of this manuscript.