Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference: Presentation

Reposted from the MiPP project blog.

I gave a presentation on MiPP at the TAG conference in Bristol before Christmas, in the session organized by CASPAR entitled ‘Audio-visual practice-as-research in archaeology’. The crux of the presentation was the present-day MoCap data that we gathered from Sue et al at the site this summer, what we are doing with it, and what we would like to do with it. Currently, in my mind at least, this centres on the typology of movement that we’re developing – reviewing the footage and identifying entities of posture, task, instrument and target, and building links between them. In that sense, it is more of a taxonomy (i.e. hierarchical), rather than an ontology (i.e. flat; relationship-based).  This, I think, could be very illuminating in terms of understanding archaeological practice; but of course we have to avoid be overly reductionist: every archaeologists is unique of course, and we must be clear that the typology is a means of reflecting that practice and representing it in a systematic way, rather than pigeonholing what archaeologists actually do in the field. Also, while preparing the paper, it struck me that among the things we will have to address for DEDEFI purposes are practical questions such as cost (the suits are currently prohibitively expensive for any excavation project to purchase themselves); practicality in terms of staff and infrastructure needed on site (Animazoo had to have a heavy direct involvement in our work at Silchester), ethics and privacy. And, to cull from the presentation before mine, distinguishing the kind of archaeological practice we are interested in from ‘weird practices’; which may have nothing to do with the archaeological process.

As always with these presentations, it was the questions afterwards which were really interesting (although alas I had to leave before the general discussion at the end of the day, as legions of snow clouds closed in on southern England). It was clear, once again, that engagement with other archaeological practitioners is key of MiPP is to be a success; but that a project which is about process rather than material needs  to have its proper archaeological context spelled out if that engagement is to happen.  I suspect, however, that once the second stand of the project – the dynamic reconstructions – are under way and demonstrable in a more final form; this will actually be very much easier. We must also link these processes to current discussions about agency and materiality, as discussed for example by Martin Wobst. Ruth Tringham of UC Berkeley indicated that similar issues had come up in her team’s thinking about process at Catalhoyuck. I was asked what merits the various motion capture systems have over simply videoing the excavators at work in HD: this indicates to me that we need to investigate, document and demonstrate in a very robust way the functionaries that the bvh and .fbx viewers that we are using can bring for panning, zooming, viewing the data from multiple angles in 3D and – critically – linking the data with the archaeological data that is there: these critical advantages over standard video are extremely important for the question of ‘why’, as opposed to ‘how’ do we take MoCap out of the studio. A further functionality which I think we need, which struck me when was reviewing the data earlier this week, is that we need the subject’s line of site to be projected onto the floor surface. This is not obvious in the current footage, and yet it is central to documenting the subject’s relationship with his or her material. Finally, I was asked about capturing the movements of larger numbers of people at the same time. This, of course, was originally envisaged as part of MiPP, but had to be abandoned due to technological constraints. Of course this would open the process up to capturing the pathways of visitors through, and around, sites.

Overall – still much to do, but I sense that some really interesting issues are beginning to emerge.


Author: Stuart Dunn

I do various things, but mainly I am Professor of Spatial Humanities at King's College London's . My interests include things computational, cartographic and archaeological.

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