- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2001

Virtual museums abound on the Internet, each offering immediate access to civilizations that may no longer exist but have contributed to our way of life.

One cyber-stop, created through the cooperation of two museums, gives junior anthropologists and archaeologists a chance to explore the beginnings of societies while learning about five mighty cultures dating to 10,000 B.C.

Odyssey Online

Site address: www.emory.edu/CARLOS/ODYSSEY/index.html


The education departments of the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., and the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta developed the site with technical expertise supplied by Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site originally to enliven the study of ancient civilizations for sixth-graders who were following the social studies curriculum of both New York state and Georgia. In a sense, it began as an on-line field trip. The first lessons were derived from years of experience both museums had had with real children in front of real works of art," says Patricia C. Rodewald, project manager for Odyssey Online.

"From the beginning we wanted children to experience the thrill of looking at and thinking about ancient artifacts and to figure them out for themselves. We wanted history to come alive for these students. Before long, however, the interactive characteristics of the Web itself began to inform the content and lessons. In a lesson highlighting an ancient Egyptian coffin, for example, we were able to show a CAT scan of a mummy and then engage students in 'reading' the information the CAT scan provided. Thanks to technology, we could take our Web visitors way beyond a traditional field-trip experience."

Word from the Webwise:

Odyssey Online combines the educational might as well as relics from the two galleries into one virtual destination that delves into the Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and sub-Saharan African civilizations.

Visitors to the 4-year-old site will learn quickly that a group's culture is defined not only by its people, but also by their life experiences, the folklore and religion they believed in, their ability to communicate and record their history, and how they viewed the dead.

For each of the five civilizations, icons offer more information on topics such as "People," "Mythology," "Daily Life," "Death & Burial," "Writing" and "Archaeology." When the icons are clicked, pictures of ancient objects, games, definitions, easy-to-read information, audio clips to help with pronunciations, and anecdotal stories are offered.

Information presented is brief, yet substantial enough to provide students with enough key words and concepts to help them conduct further research. From the site's pages, teachers and students can find icons that link to lists of books and other resources and Web sites that provide additional research on any of the subjects covered.

Through a quick peek at the "Ritual and Ceremony" area under Africa, visitors will find information on gods and spirits, divination and healing rituals, and the masks of African cultures. Clicking on the "Gods and Spirits" icon reveals news on the Yoruba, a population of about 10 million people who live in the southwestern regions of Nigeria and Benin and worship a supreme being, Oludumare.

Photographs of museum objects, such as a Greek vase highlighting the life of Hercules, pepper the site and, when clicked, expand in size, allowing a closer look at details while providing a description of the object, where it came from and where it is now.

How people lived, where they lived, the tools they used and foods they ate often are some of the most fascinating areas of study. Checking into the "Daily Life" of Near Eastern civilizations, visitors learn about the natural materials these people used then and now, including mud brick, stone and pottery.

Pottery was very important to people in the ancient Near Eastern civilization, as it provided the vessels necessary to transport and store the foods produced by this flourishing agricultural society.

From this page, students can click on the highlighted words "abundant food source" and dig deeper into the foods that were grown and consumed in the Near East, including leeks, onions, lentils, wheat and olives, an important food source that provided oil for cooking and that was used as a medicine, perfume base and lamp fuel.

Explorers also will find colorful maps and interactive games that help keep the learning fun. For example, the map of Africa, which requires the Shockwave Player to display, allows users to click on countries' names to see where they are located.

Ease of use:

This odyssey has been planned with a 28.8 modem in mind, making it compatible with most school and home equipment. Computers also will need to have QuickTime, Real Audio and Shockwave plug-ins packed and ready. Links from the site will efficiently install the necessary software.

The icons at the bottom of each page keep the site easy to navigate. Additionally, buttons for each of the civilization modules also are available at the bottom of each page.

Overall, I think the site has great promise. Continued updates to fill in some holes, especially in the archaeology area, will make it an even better educational experience.

Don't miss:

Found under "Writing" in the area on Greece, the "Inscription Transcription Game" challenges players to transcribe the names of the characters found in a fifth century B.C. play.

Using the Carlos Museum's "Melanippe Krater" (the only existing vase illustrating Athenian poet Euripedes' famed story), players must translate the characters' Greek names into Latin letter equivalents with the help of a Greek/Latin alphabet table.

Family activity:

Besides visiting a real museum, mom and dad can help junior write a job description for an archaeologist, make a brochure depicting the tools archaeologists use or write a play describing the discovery of King Tuthankhamen's tomb. All of these suggestions can be found by clicking on the "Teacher" icons on many of the site's pages.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Odyssey Online addresses the goals and objectives of a sixth-grade social-studies curriculum. Enough games and information can be found to make the site worth a repeat visit, but parents should be aware that it contains many links that will take students out onto the information highway.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is changing constantly. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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