The Virtual Fort project is a new initiative to develop digital 3-dimensional (3-D) models of James Fort at significant points in its history. 3-D modeling involves using architectural software to virtually re-create historical structures and objects based on archaeological evidence, documentary sources, and comparative examples. Once the structural elements are completed, the models are enhanced with photo-realistic textures, environmental features, and simulated lighting to show them at a particular moment in history.
Creating the 3-D models is also a valuable research process for assessing the archaeological data. Digital modeling enables the team to test hypotheses about how structures were built. Making a change to a building to align with one piece of evidence can often have a ripple effect through the rest of the model, necessitating changes to other aspects of the structure. In this way, the team works back-and-forth between the evidence and the virtual model, until the 3-D reconstruction best fits all of the available data. While some features, such as window placement, often remain conjectural, the final model provides the team’s best interpretation, but it also can be updated if new evidence comes to light.
The Virtual Fort, which is still in the early stages of development, will result in models of James Fort as it looked in 1607, 1608, 1610, and 1619. The virtual environments for these four significant time periods will include buildings, artifacts, and archaeological features. The team has nearly completed the model of the church where the First General Assembly met in 1619 and will soon be creating simple reconstructions of all the known fort-period buildings.