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Animated Shadows on Virtual Stone: Ancient Sundials in a Gallery Setting

By Sebastian Heath
03/05/2018

Collaboration is an essential part of ISAW's mission and programs. This was particularly true for the exhibition Time and Cosmos in Greco-Roman Antiquity, which ran from Oct. 2016 to April 2017 and included a compelling selection of ancient sundials among many other objects. The basic principle of how sundials work is not complicated: the perceived movement of the sun causes shadows on stone to themselves move, which in turn indicates the time of day. Additionally, the varying height of the sun in the sky at different times of the year allows that cycle to be read as well. But the specific movement of shadow on any one sundial is hard to describe in words. That difficulty was an opening for a collaboration between ISAW faculty, staff, and students, who created digital animations of shadows moving across the surfaces of sundials in the exhibition. Placing these animations in the gallery allowed visitors to better understand the use of these ancient timekeeping devices. This was especially the case when docents provided further introduction and context.

In the article "Animated Shadows on Virtual Stone: Ancient Sundials in a Gallery Setting" that has now appeared in the latest issue of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, Sebastian Heath, Rachel Herschman, and Christine Roughan - all members of the ISAW community - describe this work with the goal of highlighting the effectiveness of digital resources for both the gallery experience and for ongoing reuse in both teaching and research. A distinctive feature of the article is that it includes playable computer animations directly as illustrations. Furthermore, JITP, as the journal is known, publishes all its peer-reviewed content under a Creative Commons license "Attribution, Non-commercial, Share Alike" license so that these videos can be widely distributed. While the exhibition Time and Cosmos did have to come to an end, sharing animations via an innovative online journal should greatly extend the effectiveness and impact of this collaborative effort.

Animated Shadows on Virtual Stone: Ancient Sundials in a Gallery Setting

Installation view of a visitor and the Roofed Spherical Sundial with Greek Inscription with an animation running at its side, 2016. Photo © Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, photographer Andrea Brizzi