Exploring Ancient Cities. Sumeria Inc..
Reviewed by David J. Weiland
Published on H-LatAm (January, 2001)
Exploring the Ancient World with a CD-Rom
Sumeria, Inc., in collaboration with Scientific American, offers <cite>Exploring Ancient Cities</cite> as an interactive CD-Rom. In contrast to their subsequent, independent effort, <cite>Exploring the Ancient Maya</cite>, this cd compares four different urban areas--Pompeii, Crete, Petra, and Teotihuacan. Produced in 1995, and narrated by Rod McKuen, this offering is somewhat less stimulating than their later cd focused solely on the Maya. Relying largely on secondary sources from the 1950s and 1960s, the instructional content is both dated and rigid in its presentation. <p> As with the Maya CD-ROM, there is no instruction booklet. One simply inserts the disk and clicks on an icon that downloads the necessary programs to run the presentations (it is both Mac and PC compatible). The presentation begins with an introductory page that offers a short, repeating movie of the highlights on the disk, and a "Contents" button that, when clicked on with the mouse, transports the user to the "Contents" page. Here we find a "Timeline" without the interactive elements of the Maya disk; simple, without visuals, and lacking any explicit connection to Crete. Instead, we are given little more than a limited presentation periodizing the remaining cities with references--but no links--to a handful of key events. The "Maps" link connects to a global map with the four cities' names. Click on any one and you are transported to the contents relating to that city, along, with another button that takes you back to the "Maps" page. Another choice on the contents page is "Visual Overview" offering four grand tours full-screen slideshows of each city, with McKuen' narration. Each ranges in length from Crete's thirty-five minute presentation to Petra's twenty-five minute show to the twenty minute offerings on Pompeii and Teotihuacan. These slide shows focus on the architecture, sculpture and history of each, with smaller presentations accompanied by music, images and captions, but without narration. Finally the "Contents" page offers a help button that provides a very basic explanation of the cd's features and interactivity. <p> One can also choose to go directly to one of the four featured cities from the also listed on the "Contents" page. Pompeii, for example, draws on information from Amadeo Maiuri's 1958 study of the city. Crete offers information from Peter M. Warren's article of July 1958, while the Petra presentation draws on Peter J. Parr's October 1967 study of the site. Selecting Teotihuacan, the only ancient American city represented, identifies it as being located in modern-day Mexico. Clicking on the city's name at this level starts the Teotihuacan presentation, an essay written by Rene Millon in 1967. The essay, with certain key words underlined in red, provides links in a web format to relevant images also accessible through a small, manually driven slideshow. The images include masks, pottery, carvings and so on. Also included in the Teotihuacan section, as with each of the other urban areas, is a city map. By moving the cursor over the map with the mouse, certain areas are highlighted with names of these areas. Clicking on one or another of these focal points brings up slides and labels of each. Of the various possibilities, Sumeria has included images of temples, shrines, picturesque walls, massive platforms and the like; each with an eye toward emphasizing the artistic and ritual symbolism of each. <p> Of particular note in the Teotihuacan section are the famous Pyramid of the Sun, the Street of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon, the Citadel and its clusters of rooms, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and its facade, various mural paintings and sculpture, volcanic-rock pottery, the canalization of the city and the drainage system in the central patio. In general the emphasis is on artistic symbolism and the integration of architecture and sculpture as cultural expressions. <p> As with Sumeria's <cite>Exploring the Ancient Maya</cite> CD, it is possible to download images from the CD to one's own computer and use them through other computer presentation programs as desired. In general, the overall appearance of this product is good, though less informative or enthralling than the Maya cd. Nonetheless, it still managed to win the National Educational Media Awards' "Bronze Apple" prize, along with the Technology and Learning Home/School Learning Software Award for Excellence for 1995-6. That the <i>Maya</i> CD-ROM followed this Cities CD-ROM onto the market the next year indicates some of the improvements to be found and noted in the review of the Maya offering, a clearly superior product. In the end, it is difficult to determine the precise utility of the <i>Ancient Cities</i> CD-ROM. Although there is some clear classroom utility, the information provided within is extremely dated, the interactivity is limited and the going price--nearly $50.00--suggests that Sumeria continues to struggle to find a market for this software in a world where prices for such items fall fast and furious in the face of competition and the rapid updating of most multimedia products. That this cd has seen only one revision in the last six years demonstrates what should already be clear: the costs of production have yet to be recovered in sales and the utility of the product is less that it could be. <p> Note: <p> . This in contrast, again, to the eight awards and high ratings attained received by the <i>Maya</i> CD-ROM.
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David J. Weiland. Review of , Exploring Ancient Cities.
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