Armor Germanic warrior recreated with video game technology

Digital reconstructions as a research tool for the behaviour of archaeological costumes.

04/20/2021 | 10:59 AM

How was chain mail armor worn? Do other garments fit underneath this protective suit? And is it suited to use with different kinds of weapons? Martijn Wijnhoven (VU), together with Aleksei Moskvin and Mariia Moskvina (Saint Petersburg State University of Industrial Technologies and Design), did research on game applications as a means to study archaeological artifacts. To illustrate the possibilities, the researchers recreated the armor of a Germanic warrior from the 2nd-3rd century A.D. in virtual reality.  

Virtual reality is opening up new ways for reconstructing, conserving, and displaying clothing and textile. Especially for artifacts from an archaeological context that can be incomplete, damaged, or vulnerable. Despite the possibilities of computer technology, the potential has merely been tested on a superficial level. The research by Moskvin, Moskvina, and Wijnhoven shows the possibilities that the use of technology designed for the video game industry offers.

Germanic warrior in virtual reality
'The use of such gaming software is already common good in the fashion industry. In this software, clothing is first developed digitally and exposed to tests before starting production', says Wijnhoven. 'We see a lot of potential for this method to gain a better understanding of the past.'

To demonstrate, the researchers used the armor of a Germanic warrior. This armor consists of a pair of trousers, a tunic, a pair of shoes, chain mail armor, under armor, and a belt. Curators from the Danish National Museum let Wijnhoven put the armor on a mannequin to see what it looked like when worn. With the help of technology that has been developed for the video game industry, all 19.123 rings of the chain mail armor were recreated, and the behaviour of the individual rings in the chain mail armor was recorded. Afterwards, the researchers created a digital version of the mannequin.

'Then we looked at the degree of accuracy of this reconstruction. When it turned out that this degree of accuracy was very high, we subjected the equipment to multiple tests in virtual reality, to study them both separately and in conjunction', says Wijnhoven. This way the researchers could see the way the armor looks, fits, and functions for a fully dressed warrior in times of battle.

A better understanding of the past
According to the model, the belt made wearing the chain mail armor much more comfortable. It provided the weight to be distributed more evenly and made sure the protective garment would stay in place. Also, the armor turned out to be big enough to wear thick undergarments underneath, and it turned out to be very versatile: the costume can be used with different weapons and in different roles on the battlefield.

What this example shows us, is that analyzing archaeological artifacts in virtual reality can enrich our understanding of these objects. In the recent past, experimental archaeology was the only means to research how artifacts would behave when in use. Virtual reality now offers an additional method. This opens up new and exciting opportunities to understand the past.