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People in the Past

This case study of Lowry Ruins describes CD-ROM technology for the interpretation of archeology to students.

One method for reaching the public is through virtual archeology, or the interpretation of archeology through technology. “People in the Past,” a CD-ROM produced by the Bureau of Land Management's Anasazi Heritage Center and the Southwest Natural and Cultural Heritage Association, is an interactive multimedia program. It places you before Lowry Ruin in southwest Colorado, a National Historic Landmark managed by the BLM. From there, you are on your own to discover the 800-year-old pueblo. “People in the Past” uses many technological tools and interpretive methods to bring Lowry Ruin and its people to life: sound, animation, QuickTime/video, stills, and 3D imaging.

The CD enables the viewer to explore pathways to learn about archeological and Native American perspectives. On a wooden welcoming sign are the engraved faces of an archeologist and a Native American woman. Click either and hear them talk about the site as a focus of study or as a center of cultural identity, both with a reverence evident throughout the program. The human figures are fashioned after models that the designers bought and then re-touched digitally, producing 24 individual characters. Computer-animated landscapes are difficult to render convincingly, but software made specifically for the purpose—Questar's World Construction Set—got the results the artists wanted. The archeologist's tent showcases what the software can do. The visitor can operate a laptop, a VCR, a CD player, and more. Inserting a slide into the microscope and seeing the grinding marks on a mano shows the visitor archeology's ability to inform us about the people of the past.

The BLM has established a permanent version of “People in the Past” on a Macintosh computer at the Anasazi Heritage Center. The museum is visited by between 5,000 and 6,000 schoolchildren as well as 35,000 adults each year. Technology, anthropology, and ancient tradition come together in a campaign to reach the public. If people can see a pueblo live before them on screen, they are more likely to see it as far greater in the sum of its parts than a desert oddity or a souvenir trove.

Adapted from:

Flanagan, Joseph
1999 Imagining Lowry: A Puebloan Village Rises in Cyberspace, The Future of Public Archeology, Common Ground, Winter.