Stories in the Rock

Multitouch interactive best viewed at its native 1920x1080 resolution in updated Chrome or Firefox browsers


Dr. Sandra Olsen, curator of anthropology, and director of the Center for World Cultures at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, leads the Arabian Rock Art Heritage Project with a multinational team of researchers investigating a set of little known petroglyph sites found in remote regions of the Saudi Arabian desert. Etched into large rock faces are remarkable scenes of prehistoric people hunting wild animals, herding cattle, riding camels, and engaging in warfare on horseback. Some of these ancient rock art engravings date back to the Holocene Wet Phase (8,000 BCE–3,500 BCE), when the environment in the Arabian Peninsula was more like a savannah. During these expeditions, Dr. Olsen’s team documented dozens of rock art sites using GigaPan composite photography, texture mapping, and three-dimensional laser scanning. These visual data resources function not only as research evidence, but also work as fascinating windows into remote and inaccessible cultural sites of great importance; and they served as the inspiration for our Stories in the Rock project.

The Stories in the Rock demonstration project has three central aims. First, to study applications of multiscalar image environments to communicate and engage visitors in museum research and collections. Second, to support disciplinary-based ways of looking, noticing and observing features in an ancient petroglyph site. Third, to support user engagement through self-directed exploration and agency.

We next present a summary of our design research process and findings. The activities build towards fulfilling project goals, framing the possibilities and limits of gigapixel image interactions in a museum exhibit setting, generating frameworks and design concepts that meet both usability and learning objectives, and finally developing an iterative series of working prototypes that we deployed for testing and evaluation.

Design Process

Kick-off Meeting

Our first project team meeting took place at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The meetings goals were simple—to bring collaborators up to date on project work, and talk about the goals and next steps for the digital teaching collection tool we are going to create. Read more »