Narrating the Gap Between Observation & Visualisation

Organisers Catriona Cooper (University of Southampton) and Alice Watterson (Glasgow School of Art)

It can be argued that all archaeological research begins with the creation of the archaeological record and continues with the production of a series of narratives. This session will think about this relationship and consider the extent to which visualisation links the two. Such a link can relate explicitly to experience, through phenomenology, or mediated by illustration, survey, creative media or computer graphics. Carefully recorded at any level all archaeological observations are concerned with the sites as they stand today. We wish to explore the mechanisms for producing complimentary reconstructive narratives whether these are creative, data driven or interpretative. This session seeks to bridge this gap between the observations underlying the archaeological record and the multiple reconstructions of the past, by considering what the term ‘reality’ can mean in either context. The gap between observation and the narrative leaves an area of dialogue between what is considered the ‘real’ of the present site and the ‘real’ of the reconstructed past and how it is experienced. The process of interpretation produces many questions concerning how our interpretive influence affects the integrity of the captured record, the control of experience and the ways in which we model uncertainty.

Invisible monuments

Speaker: Aaron Watson (Monumental)

Fieldwork methods and technologies are often passive and objective, enabling archaeological sites to be recorded with great accuracy. For example, survey machines create consistent maps and plans, and laser scanners capture surfaces in enormous detail. While these techniques generate new data, they only work within preordained categories. Field workers are exposed to a wide variety of multisensory experiences, but the methods they employ capture only very specific information. The world is distilled so that it can be reproduced on the printed page or is compatible with an archive or software. Ultimately, this predetermines the character of the archaeological record.

Many of the more challenging interpretations of Neolithic material culture, from phenomenology to archaeoacoustics, could not have been conceived using such methods. Instead, they have emerged from rather more prolonged and subjective multisensory engagements between people and place. Richard Bradley has described how learning to see new elements within the archaeological record is a creative process. This complements Tim Ingold’s concept of dwelling, which places emphasis upon the embodied experience of landscape.

We are only just beginning to acknowledge the possibility that Neolithic sites might not be characterised solely by vision, or even a rigid distinction between nature and culture. Is it possible to create new methods and technologies that can visualise these hidden and unexpected facets of the archaeological record? Just as antiquarians in the 17th century had to learn to see gigantic structures such as Avebury, might we yet reveal unknown forms of monument lying undetected in the modern landscape?

Transparent Evidence & Interpretation: the British Empire Exhibition of 1938

Speaker: Daisy Abbott (Glasgow School of Art)

3D visualisation is a powerful technique to increase understanding and experience of non-extant cultural heritage. This paper will present the aggregation, interpretation, visualisation, and presentation of evidence related to the British Empire Exhibition of 1938, an internationally significant event for the study of modernist architecture as well as British social and industrial history. Although the documentation aggregated is unusually rich and varied as it includes photographic and film evidence, floorplans, souvenirs, and living witness testimonies, it is nevertheless surprisingly scarce and incomplete just 70 years later. Good practice in creating 3D digital reconstructions (which are absolutist in nature) needs researchers to meticulously document their processes to alleviate the danger of mis-reading visualised data based on incomplete sources.

Using visualisation theory alongside elements of dramaturgical theory appropriate to the deliberately temporary nature of this exhibition, this paper will examine the points of creative interpretation inherent in the event documentation, the surviving evidence, the research and 3D visualisation process, and its presentation to different audiences. An application was developed to link research sources and documentation of interpretative process directly to an interactive 3D visualisation of the Exhibition; one solution to the challenge of making interpretative influence and uncertainty transparent.

ArcSeer: a new approach to archaeological representation

Speaker: Frank Lynam (Trinity College Dublin)

This paper considers the role that representational methodologies play in the dialogue between archaeological material data and narrative creation. It does this specifically in relation to the production and consumption of knowledge at the site of Priniatikos Pyrgos (, a highly complex multi-period coastal site in East Crete. A new paradigm, known as ArcSeer (, is presented as an alternative approach to the traditional methods of recording, reading and representing the archaeological record. ArcSeer’s approach exploits exciting innovations within the technological spheres of web application development, 3D visualisation and as preached by the User Experience philosophy. The site of Priniatikos Pyrgos has seen much morphological and functional change throughout its millennia of occupation and the manner in which these data are represented significantly influences the site’s reading by its audience. ArcSeer is particularly interested in accommodating the multiple interpretations that fuel and derive from these representations. If we accept the basic premise that representation cannot be considered a neutral act, then a greater reflexive awareness of this fact must be accommodated by the representational devices that the discipline employs. The ArcSeer project is one such experiment along this road of enquiry.

Instants of Waiting. The Polaroid’s Experience as an experience of expectation.

Speaker: Joana Alves Ferreira (University of Porto)

The polaroid project is an experimental work, comprised of around 20 original polaroids, that mediates between the different moments and specific contexts of a place: the 2009 excavation season of the prehistoric site of Castanheiro do Vento (Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Northern Portugal).

Photography has been, in general terms, interpreted as “sentimental work” or “product” (Barthes, 1982). Polaroids, in particular, point to more specific associations, which relate to the past and to the desire for its revelation, and which give the Polaroid itself a certain aura of processed nostalgia.They ascend beyond the category of the event: that begins long before the simple click. It is, therefore, with this phenomenon that we might find the theoretical justification for choosing the Polaroid as a tool: it assumes the role of “how”, it transmits an element of representation, it is a process of vision; and it is directly associated with “what”, it is a specific message, a sentimental value, a memory, etc.

The iconography/aesthetics associated with the image or the object of the Polaroid is related to a double impossibility: the polaroid, conceived in the analogue environment, is grounded in the basic principle of the impossibility of reproduction, which is, moreover, parallel to the impossibility of reproducing scenes and objects from the past. Thus, our aim will be to question the original mission for which the Polaroid was created i.e. to pretend to be an Instant Document, reflecting on the concept of effective representation, and on its ability to meet the observer’s specific expectations.

Our project arises from the confrontation between the concept of Wait and the concept of Instant, opening up space for a fragmentation of movement and time. Polaroids involve movements and temporalities of a distinct nature/ order, that when confronted challenge the heuristic schema of narrative itself i.e. the a priori recognition of its shape. The Wait and the Instant, thus, create the possibility of an inventive work of memory that bursts against the massif of official history. The Polaroid, with its iconicity, constitutes the aesthetic response for the study of a subjective experience of the one who sees a specific place, of his/her memory, or its more complete absence.

Visualising Archaeological Data in the Context of Past Environments: On the Theoretical &Methodological Challenges of Temporal GIS

Speaker: Ash Scheder Black (University of York)

A nascent class of applications for spatial-temporal analysis is emerging, heralding methodological opportunities for social science, and Archaeology. Data visualization itself is a powerful new communication medium that viscerally links human perception and understanding with the data structures and classification methods that were previously the purview of Computer Science. These applications are beginning to make clear that the choices we make as we classify archaeological data on its way to screen do profoundly manipulate the interpretive narrative that emerges, thus underscoring the need to develop rigorous methodologies for making good choices from the outset.

TemporalMapping is a Web-based application for visualising archaeological data in the context of a model that renders the dynamic coastlines of the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic for the British Isles at a high, compelling resolution. As a prototype, it points the way towards the methodological challenges of data classification and hints at powerful story-telling capabilities that are native to this new family of spatial-temporal tools. The application will be demoed in the spirit of exploring these challenges, and opportunities.

Archaeological survey now! Comparing the methods & techniques for 3D data capture at two Scottish Ten project sites: St Kilda (Scotland) & Rani Ki Vav (India).

Speaker: James Hepher (Historic Scotland & CDDV)

Historic Scotland’s Scottish Ten Project is a five year collaboration with Glasgow School of Art’s Digital Design Studio. The two organisations working together as The Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation. This paper documents the progress of the project so far.

The Scottish Ten team use 3D laser scanning to digitally document ten of the world’s archaeologically significant, artistically complex, remote and threatened UNESCO inscribed World Heritage sites.

Scotland’s five World Heritage sites:

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney: A Neolithic wonderland
St Kilda: The remote island archipelago
The Antonine Wall: The Roman feat of engineering
New Lanark: Robert Owen’s 18th century “social utopia”
Edinburgh’s old and new town: A cornucopia of architecture

And the international sites at:

Mount Rushmore (USA), Gutzon Borglum’s sculptural masterpiece
Rani Ki Vav (Patan, India) an 11th century step well in the Solanki style

The age, condition, geographical location climatic conditions and variation in size and shape of the sites has meant that The Scottish Ten team has had to be innovative in dealing with the many physical and practical challenges encountered. Here we will look at two of the projects in detail:

St Kilda (Scotland) and Rani Ki Vav (India)

Comparing and contrasting the methods of survey and the challenges encountered by the team. This is archaeological survey now! And the discipline encompasses all types and layouts of archaeological built heritage and all manner of technical challenges and technology. Including laser scanning, merging, meshing and 3D modeling for large areas of rural landscape together with ground based micro millimeter laser scans of stone carvings, sculpture and inscription. Combining this macro and micro scale laser scanned data and georeferencing each site sets the architecture, art and inscription into a global landscape context.

Like each Scottish Ten site, St Kilda and Rani Ki Vav have raised and answered fresh questions in how we should approach digital documentation to produce the most accurate and future proof tools for digital documentation  whilst maintaining, very high standards in 3D visualization.

Learning from these experiences it is hoped that the Scottish Ten project can be a founding stone for best practice in 3D data capture of all archaeological sites from global to local.


Navigating Pareidolian Coincidence; An Auditory ’Pata-archaeological Adventure Story

Poster/Installation Presenter: David J. Knight (University of Southampton)

The interpretative expanse that lies between archaeological observation and visualisation is posited here as a fertile zone in which different pasts are translated into narratives using likeness correlations including analogies, metaphors and pataphors. The endeavour to recognise meaningful patterns in archaeological observable data is understood here to be a first step in plotting the lineaments of reconstruction narratives buried behind visualising what has disappeared. While this initial stage is hoped to highlight past intentionality, it is also equally predicated on imparting meaning on epi-phenomenal accidents, frequent exceptions, serendipity and coincidence. It is suggested here that addressing and navigating visual and aural apophenia, pareidolia, can be a method of understanding the surreal interweaving of fact and fiction in the fabric of archaeological visualisations. Recognizing the pattern of including pareidolia into interpretations of pasts is understood here as a vital core to the new emergent art form produced by archaeological computer assisted augmented reality, where ’Pataphysical surrealities and Archaeology coordinate to create sense-alike pasts. Text and sound are presented as a series of travel-log auditory pareidolian entries from an imagined recent future foray into the zone between archaeological observation and visualisation, a creative exploratory of the ‘gap’ from which past-like creations derive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s