An Experiment in Using Visual Attention Metrics to Think About Experience and Design Choices in Past Places

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Visual attention, 3D models, Experience, Archaeological method

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The influence of the visual properties of a built space or landscape on the behaviors of people within them and the manipulation of these visual properties to cue or constrain behaviors are subjects of long-standing archaeological interest. Advances in cognitive neurosciences and a suite of improved computational modeling tools, combined with the proliferation of detailed 3D models of archaeological complexes and landscapes, offer an opportunity for new approaches to these topics based on models of low-level perceptual cues and visual attention. The approach described here takes aim at the question of where people will look, rather than simply what is visible, with the goal of investigating the intentions of designers of spaces and visual aspects of the experience of a place. In simple terms, our approach involves placing detailed 3D models of built spaces or landscapes into a digital environment. An individual then virtually walks through the space and what is visible at each moment is recorded in the form of a video stream, which may be broken down into a sequence of scenes. This set of scenes is then analyzed using software that calculates and maps the visual saliency of each scene and the path of focuses of attention (FOAs) over time. This set of saliency maps, raw images, and FOA paths provide the basis for further interpretation. This paper presents an initial experiment to illustrate the approach, carried out in the eastern passage at Knowth, one of the main mounds in the Brú na Bóinne in Ireland.

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Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, v. 24, issue 4, p. 1203-1226