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Coming Soon: Virtual Reality on the Web! VR Walk-throughs of Archaeological Sites in the Lower Kidron Valley!

The Kidron Valley Project

The Kidron Valley (classical transliteration, Cedron, from Hebrew: נחל קדרון‎, Naḥal Qidron; also Qidron Valley; Arabic: وادي الجوز‎, Wadi al-Joz for the upper segment near the Temple Mount, and Wadi an-Nar for the rest of it) is the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem, separating the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. It continues east through the Judean Desert in the West Bank, towards the Dead Sea, descending 4000 feet along its 20-mile course. The Kidron Valley has been ravaged by years of unchecked development and neglect, creating an environmental disaster affecting residents on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide with major economic and health consequences. By restoring the Kidron Valley, a unique, internationally significant heritage district will increase the number of Christian, Muslim and Jewish pilgrims, eco- and archaeological tourism, and spur agricultural development throughout the Kidron to Jericho and throughout the Jordan River Valley in both Israeli and Palestinian territories. To address this challenge the Kidron Valley/Wadi Nar Master Plan aims to find an environmental solution that transcends boundaries and political differences.

The initiative will focus on a collaborative effort to preserve cultural landmarks, empower local populations through environmental education and other initiatives, and transform the Kidron Valley through improved planning, land usage, and infrastructure. The Center for Cyber-Archaeology at the Qualcomm Institute at UCSD, the Milkin Institute at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and the Geo-Archaeological Information Applications (GAIA) Lab embarked on a study of the impact of the development project on the archaeological sites in the watershed. Using the DAAHL database and a 3d topographic model of the watershed, the GAIA Lab produced this Google Earth fly-through to help illustrate the diversity of settlement and ecological zones in the proposed area of impact.

Deir Mar Saba Monastery

Deir Mar Saba is a 5th century CE monastery, the largest in the Judean desert. The complex is built on the southern cliffs of the Kidron Valley, and is protected inside a walled area with dozens of structures. It was established by Saint Sabas (Arabic: Mar Saba), and named after him. The monastery started as a place of seclusion of few monks in the caves, led by Sabas. Over the years it was built, expanded, and fortified. During the peak times it housed about 500 monks. It is the only monastery that still functions in the Kidron Valley, and one of the major foci of the Kidron Valley Project's efforts in site preservation.

In July, 2015, Dr. Tom Levy, Director of the Center for Cyber-Archaeology at the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego,, led a team of students to the monastery to conduct aerial balloon photography and on-the-ground documentation of several buildings inside the monastery walls. Matt Howland, one of Levy's graduate students, flew the balloon and took more than 600 high resoultion pictures, which he then transformed into a 3D model of the monastery with AgiSoft's "Structure from Motion" application. We plan to produce Virtual Reality walkthroughs of parts of the monastery and other important sites in the Kidron as web-based VR technology developes. The movie shown here is based on Matt's 3D model, and illustrates some of the potential of developing VR capability on the web. Under the direction of computer scientist Dr. Jürgen Schulze of the Qualcomm Institute, UC San Diego undergrads Connor Smith, Kristin Agcaoili, and Anish Kannan are developing software capable of displaying various forms of archaeological data inside virtual reality. This data will be primarily presented using head-mounted displays, such as the Oculus Rift, and virtual CAVE’s, systems that display content on screens surrounding a user.

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