Depicting Çatalhöyükness

Article by Laia Pujol

LEAP (LEarning of Archaeology through Presence) is a 2-year EU-funded research project. It aims to research, implement and evaluate an innovative conceptual and technological framework for Virtual Archaeology. This framework is based on the adaptation for Cultural Heritage of “Cultural Presence”, a concept originally developed in the fields of Virtual Reality and Human-Computer Interaction.

In contrast with current archaeological virtual reconstructions, which mostly convey visual information of buildings and environments, {LEAP] would like to enhance the understanding of past societies by experts and audiences through the experiencing of immersive, populated, interactive reconstructions of archaeological sites. The unique scientific and archaeological features of Çatalhöyük make it the most suitable case to context to develop and test the concept.

So far, the project has defined the specificities of the concept (see Blog post 1: Introducing “çatalhöyükness”) and has built a VR mediated experience of the Neolithic site. This was done thanks to several workshops conducted in Barcelona and at Çatalhöyük with specialists and representatives of non-expert audiences. These workshops focused on the concept of Presence; the defining elements of a culture (see Blog post 2: Defining “çatalhöyükness”); and the best ways to depict them through virtual reconstructions. As a result, I would like to provide, in a playful way, some guidelines for the design of VR mediated experiences in Archaeology.

Straight from Çatalhöyük’s ovens, here is the…


Preparation time: 2 months

Cooking time: 6 months

In the kitchen: 1 project manager, 1 3D artist, 1 interaction programmer, 3 3D modellers and animators, 3 sound engineers, 11 voice actors

Presentation: Head Mounted Display / Desktop


- 1 North Shelter Neighbourhood, including abandoned houses.

- An assortment of artefacts, including organic objects (such as baskets, ropes and mats).

- 3 dozens of domestic and a handful of wild animals.

- 1 human Neolithic community.

- Varied colours, clothes, personal ornaments and wall decorations.

- A broth of multimedia information (text, images, videos).


1. Take the North Shelter Neighbourhood and depict it with all its details and variability. Avoid standardization of modelling. It may simplify processing, but reduces archaeological flavour. (Having a dynamic autonomous environment (with bugs, smoke from ovens, day/night cycles) is a more expensive option, requiring complex rule programming and eventually A.I., but it will guarantee a blast of plausibility for your visualization.)

2. Mix and stir the artefacts, animals and human community so that the dynamism of the settlement is visible in different scenes (e.g. diversified economic activities, burial and recovery of skulls, construction and dismantling of a house). Organic objects are difficult to find but they will endow your visualization with a distinct taste of completeness.

3. Add a pinch of varied colours, clothes, personal ornaments and wall decorations, to provide a lively, symbolic and aesthetic touch to the experience.

4. Boil with the broth to a highly interactive point, so that the settlement can be explored at will, and information can be retrieved at specific points.

5. Repeat the process several times so that rhythms and changes over time are visible.

6. Avoid over-processualizing it. In this way navigation is kept natural (at eye’s view, using roof tops and ladders) and personal and embodied qualities are preserved.

7. At the moment of rendering, season with different textures. This will make a difference in comparison with more traditional all-smooth visualizations.

8. Serve layered, with a clear distinction between remains and reconstruction. This helps both connoisseurs and novice gourmets understand the cooking process.

9. For more adventurous palates, we propose to try different perspectives, such as from the inside out, from burials or side storage spaces, enlarging the micro-scale, etc. It will make an original, meaningful presentation, certainly bound to make a lasting impact on your guest users.


I would like to thank the following Chefs: Barbara Betz (Human Remains), Sean Doyle (Chipped Stone), Kathryn Killackey (Scientific Illustration), Ashley Lingle (Conservation), Sophie Moore (Post-Chalcolithic remains), Sara Perry (Heritage Interpretation), James Taylor (Field director), Burcu Tung (Field director), and Jesse Wolfhagen (Faunal remains). And of course, all my gratefulness to Maitre Ian Hodder, who allowed {LEAP] to take part in the Çatalhöyük Research Project.

This VR mediated (culinary) experience is currently under evaluation at Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona. We hope to make it soon available online; but in the meanwhile you can get a taste of what is in the stewpot by means of the pictures.

Video by LEAP

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