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Welcome to Virtual Sirkap!

This site documents our early efforts at creating a virtual reconstruction of the ancient South Asian city of Sirkap. Sirkap is part of the larger archaeological complex at Taxila, now located in the modern state of Pakistan, in the province of Punjab. The project is an attempt to apply twenty-first century technology to a first/second century CE cultural heritage.

The archaeological complex at Taxila, of which Sirkap is one site, is located about 22 kilometers to the west of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and about 25 kilometers to the northwest of the city of Rawalpindi. From the early sixth century BCE to the seventh century CE Taxila was at the intersection of three great trade routes connecting India, Central Asia, and Western Asia. The site underwent many transformations in these fourteen centuries, but we focused on the middle city of Sirkap and chose to reconstruct it as it might have stood circa 100 CE.

Sirkap was excavated in the early twentieth century under the leadership of the British archaeologist Sir John Marshall. Marshall employed many workers over the course of thirteen excavation seasons, and the result is the largest horizontal excavation of an urban site in all of South Asia. Marshall’s excavation report contains invaluable information on the fabric of urban life in the early centuries of the common era. Subsequent scholars have mined his work—there have been subsequent, smaller excavations as well as many studies, but Marshall is still the main source—in order to understand this period better. However, the vast majority of this analysis has remained in the pages of archaeological journals, PhD dissertations, and academic books to which the general public has little access. Thus, much of this important work has remained out of the public view.

The advent of immersive, interactive, Web-enabled, Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) has provided us with the opportunity to tell the story of Sirkap in a way that can help visitors experience this remarkable cultural heritage as it might have been in 100 CE. MUVEs (which are a subclass of what is known popularly as MMOGs, Massively Multiplayer Online Games) are a new media vehicle that has the ability to communicate cultural heritage experience in a way that is a cross between filmmaking, video games, and architectural design. Unlike a film, it allows the observer to be an active participant in the experience. Unlike video games, its objective is to teach, rather than entertain. And unlike architectural design, it models—in addition to the built environment—also the people who inhabited the site, and their rituals.

But this technology is relatively new, with a short history, devoid of a comprehensive theory, and short on useful precedents to guide the development of virtual cultural heritage experiences. It certainly is a technology of illusion, creating an intangible reality. It freely borrows architectural principles, but can only be experienced through the proxy of avatars. Most importantly (and perhaps disturbingly), it requires filling in of missing details—architectural, social, ritualistic, and others—to create a ‘complete’ experience. Many of these details are based on conjecture and interpretation, informed by thorough research, as explained elsewhere in this web site. Therefore, we do not claim absolute historical accuracy: instead, we have tried to provide an experience that will convey, as best we can, the sense of ‘being’ at Sirkap in 100 CE.

We invite the viewers’ comments and suggestions on how successful this approach has been, and their opinion on how it might be used in the service of cultural heritage preservation and communication. We look forward to improving the model over the next few years. This project has been made possible through the a grant from the National Endownment of the Humanities and by the contributions of colleagues at Claremont McKenna College and UC Berkeley. We thank them all, as well as Garage Games who allowed us to use their Torque Game Engine to implement the project.

Yehuda E. Kalay, PhD

Daniel Michon

Professor and Dean

Assistant Professor

Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning

Department of Religious Studies

The Technion - Israel Institute of Technology

Claremont McKenna College

Haifa 32000, Israel

Claremont, CA 91711