Virtual heritage or cultural heritage and technology is the body of works dealing with information and communication technologies (ICT) and their application to cultural heritage, such as virtual archaeology. Virtual heritage and cultural heritage have independent meanings: cultural heritage refers to sites, monuments, buildings and objects "with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value", whereas virtual heritage refers to instances of these within a technological domain, usually involving computer visualization of artefacts or Virtual Reality environments.
Many virtual heritage projects focus on the tangible aspects of cultural heritage, for example 3D modelling, graphics and animation. In doing so they often overlook the intangible aspects of cultural heritage associated with objects and sites, such as stories, performances and dances. The tangible aspects of cultural heritage are not inseparable from the intangible and one method for combining them is the use of virtual heritage serious games, such as the 'Digital Songlines' game for experiencing the cultural heritage of Australian Aborigines.
The first use of Virtual Heritage as a museum exhibit, and the derivation of the name Virtual Tour, was in 1994 as a museum visitor interpretation, providing a 'walk-through' of a 3D reconstruction of Dudley Castle in England as it was in 1550. This consisted of a computer controlled laserdisc based system designed by British based engineer Colin Johnson. It is a little-known fact that one of the first users of Virtual Heritage was Queen Elizabeth II, when she officially opened the visitor centre in June 1994. Because the Queen's officials had requested titles, descriptions and instructions of all activities, the system was named 'Virtual Tour', being a cross between Virtual Reality and Royal Tour.
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- Boland, P.; Johnson, C. (1996), "Archaeology as computer visualization: 'Virtual tours' of Dudley Castle c. 1550", in Higgins, T.; Main, P.; Lang, J., Imaging the Past: Electronic Imaging and Computer Graphics in Museums and Archaeology, Occasional Papers 114, British Museum Press, pp. 227–234, ISBN 0-86159-114-3
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