Museums presenting past through digital technologies: MAV (Museo Archeologico Virtuale) of Ercolano and Site-Museum of Pont du Gard cases-study

Paola La Scala, Italy

Published paper: Museums presenting past through digital technologies: MAV (Museo Archeologico Virtuale) of Ercolano and Site-Museum of Pont du Gard case studies

Over the last few decades, the archaeological museum has been changed from a collecting place to a narrative environment. According to the new museum making process, designing an exhibition inside a space means generating ‘narrative experiences’ which integrate objects, space, and audience and creating an environment in which the visitor can understand and learn.

In designing a exhibition the first aspect that we have to consider is its ability to communicate and interact with the visitor. Secondly, the story telling must be conceived in such a way as to encourage curiosity and a desire for knowledge and provokes a positive response in learning. As a result the museum turns into a place of free expression for the visitor, who will be immersed in an environment where he can see, reflect and experiment.

Considering the recent developments in museum and exhibition design, adapting them to the contemporary digital age, museum professionals have increasingly employed multimedia in their exhibitions. The creative use of technology in historical and archaeological exhibitions allows museums to change the way of presenting objects and communicating their meaning, to show artifacts in their context, to reconstruct historical events, to increase opportunities for interactivity, or to provide involving experiences. A well-conceived use of media can spur the visitor to different approaches: exploratory, narrative, playful, recreational. The insertion of a wide range of instruments designed to stimulate the senses fully, impels the visitor toward an experience of perception and feeling, which represents the proper essence of the exhibition.

A museum unique in Italy, which makes technology the one and only communication mean with the subordinate function of being a place of knowledge, learning, and entertainment, is the MAV (Museo Archeologico Virtuale) in Herculaneum.

The MAV, located close to the archaeological excavations of ancient Herculaneum, was opened in 2008. The entire exhibition aims to lead visitors on a journey back in time, to a minute before the eruption of 79 AD, which destroyed the Roman cities of Herculaneum.

The exhibition makes exclusive use of multimedia and interactive technologies and the whole exhibition doesn’t include real objects; over seventy devices, including virtual and interactive installations, present the everyday life of the Herculaneum people and the ancient glories of the city. The absence of objects often determinates a disconnection with the close archeological site to which it is directly linked.

In a different manner, a good example of well-balanced design of multimedia tools inserted within the exhibition is the recent exhibition inside the Site-Museum of Pont du Gard, an archeological site in the south of France including a Roman aqueduct 50 km long. The exhibition, following a thematic concept, accompanies the audience into Ancient Roman time. Models, virtual reconstructions, multimedia screen and other diverse interpretative tools well-combined with real artifacts, focusing on different part of the site history, accurately recreate the images of the ancient site.

The paper, through a comparison between the cases-study, aims to provide a presentation of the museums and their exhibitions and to reflect on the use of digital technologies for archaeological communication.

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