More on Ancient Itineraries

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Image derived from Gerrit Dou, Astronomer by Candlelight, late 1650s. Oil on panel. The J. Paul Getty Museum

I have recently re-posted here the call for members for the new Institute programme, “Ancient Itineraries”, funded by the Getty Foundation as part of its Digital Art History initiative and led by DDH and collaborating with KCL’s Classics department and Humlab at Umea, which seeks to map out some possible futures for digital art history. We will do this by convening two meetings of international experts, one in London and one in Athens. The posting has generated some discussion, both on the listservs to which we’ve posted and privately.  “What’s the relationship”, asked one member of the community, “between this and the Getty Provenance Index and other initiatives in this area, such as Linked Pasts?”. Another asks if we are seeking professors, ECRs, faculty, or curators? These are good questions, and I seek to answer them, in general terms, here.

In practical terms, he project is funded by the Getty Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Getty Trust. The Getty Provenance Index is a resource developed and managed by the Getty Research Institute (GRI).  (Briefly, there are four programs that rest under the umbrella of the Getty Trust: the GRI, the Getty Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Museum. Each program works independently and has a particular mandate under the broader mission of the Getty Trust.)

A word should be devoted to the Proof of Concept (PoC). A key strand of the project will be a collaboration with King’s Digital Lab to develop an exemplum of the kind of service or resource that the art history community might find useful. The programme gives us unprecedented space to explore the methodological utility of digital methods to art history, so it is not only logical, but incumbent upon us, to try and operationalize those methods in a practical manner. The PoC will therefore be one of the main outputs of the project.  However, it must be stressed that the emphasis of the project, and the bulk of its efforts, will go into defining the question(s) which make it important. What are the most significant challenges which art history (without the “digital” prefix) currently faces and which can be tackled using digital tools and services?

There are many excellent examples of tools, services and infrastructure which already address a variety of scholarly challenges in this space – Pelagios, which enables the semantic annotation of text, aggregates data from different sources, and provides a platform for linking them together is an obvious example. As is the Pleiades gazetteer, which provides stable URIs for individual places in the ancient world, and frames much current thinking about representing the idea of (ancient) place on the WWW. Arachne, an initiative of the DAI, is another one, which links art/archaeological objects and their descriptions using catalogue metadata. These infrastructures, and the communities behind them, actually *do* things with datasets. They combine datasets and put them together; inspiring new questions, and answering old ones. from a technical point of view, our project will not be remotely of the scale or ambition of these. Rather, our motivation is to survey and reflect on key initiatives and technologies in this space, discuss their impact, and explore their relationship – or possible relationships – with methods and theories long practiced by art historians who have little or no connection with such tools.

What of the chronological scope? As we intimate in the call, digital gazetteers, visualization, the use of Semantic Web technologies to link datasets such as catalogue records, have a long pedigree of being applied within the sphere of the Classical world, very broadly conceived as the orbit of Greece and Rome between the fifth century BCE and the fourth century CE. At least in part, this can be traced back to the deep impact of Greco-Roman traditions on Western culture and society, and its manifestation in the present day – a topic explored by the current exhibition at KCL, “Modern Classicisms and The Classical Now”. Because of this, those traditions came in to early contact with scientific cartography (Ortelius first mapped the Roman empire in the 1580s) and the formal information structures of (Western) museum catalogues.  The great interest in the art and culture of this period continues to the present day, and helps explain its intensive intellectual interest to scholars of the digital humanities – resulting in a rich seam of projects and infrastructures fleetingly outlined above.

Our motivation in Ancient Itineraries is to ask what the wider field of art history can learn from this, and vice versa. Many of the questions of space, trajectory and reception that we might apply to the work of Phidias, for example, might apply to the work of other sculptors, and later traditions. Ancient Itineraries will seek to take to the myriad digital tools that we have for exploring Phidias’s world and work, and take them into theirs. The programme will give us space to review what the art-historical strands of digital classics are, and what they have already contributed to the wider area. However we will also ask what technology can and cannot achieve, and explore its wider application. Therefore, while art-historical Classicists are certainly welcome and may stand to gain most; those with interests in the art of other periods can certainly contribute – so long as they are sure they could benefit from deepening their historical and/or critical understanding of that tradition using digital praxes.

Call for members: Major new Institute opens at King’s College London with Getty Foundation support

The Project

The 18-month Institute in Digital Art History is led by King’s College London’s Department of Digital Humanities (DDH) and Department of Classics, in collaboration with HumLab at the University of Umeå, with grant support provided by the Getty Foundation as part of its Digital Art History initiative.

It will convene two international meetings where Members of the Institute will survey, analyse and debate the current state of digital art history, and map out its future research agenda. It will also design and develop a Proof of Concept (PoC) to help deliver this agenda. The source code for this PoC will be made available online, and will form the basis for further discussions, development of research questions and project proposals after the end of the programme.

To achieve these aims we will bring together leading experts in the field to offer a multi-vocal and interdisciplinary perspective on three areas of pressing concern to digital art history:

●       Provenance, the meta-information about ancient art objects,

●       Geographies, the paths those objects take through time and space, and

●       Visualization, the methods used to render art objects and collections in visual media.

Current Digital Humanities (DH) research in this area has a strong focus on Linked Open Data (LOD), and so we will begin our exploration with a focus on LOD. This geographical emphasis on the art of the ancient Mediterranean world will be continued in the second meeting to be held in Athens. The Mediterranean has received much attention from both the Digital Classics and DH communities, and is thus rich in resources and content. The programme will, therefore, bring together two existing scholarly fields and seek to improve and facilitate dialogue between them.

We will assign Members to groups according to the three areas of focus above. These groups will be tasked with producing a detailed research specification, detailing the most important next steps for that part of the field, how current methods can best be employed to make them, and what new research questions the participants see emerging.

The meetings will follow a similar format, with initial participant presentations and introductions followed by collaborative programme development and design activities within the research groups, including scoping of relevant aspects of the PoC. This will be followed by further discussion and collaborative writing which will form the basis of the event’s report. Each day will conclude with a plenary feedback session, where participants will share and discuss short reports on their activities. All of the sessions will be filmed for archival and note-taking purposes, and professional facilitators will assist in the process at various points.

The scholarly outputs, along with the research specifications for the PoC, will provide tangible foci for a robust, vibrant and sustainable research network, comprising the Institute participants as a core, but extending across the emerging international and interdisciplinary landscape of digital art history. At the same time, the programme will provide participants with support and space for developing their own personal academic agendas and profiles. In particular, Members will be encouraged to and offered collegial support in developing publications, both single- and co-authored following their own research interests and those related to the Institute.

 

The Project Team

The core team comprises of Dr Stuart Dunn (DDH), Professor Graeme Earl(DDH) and Dr Will Wootton (Classics) at King’s College London, and Dr Anna Foka of HumLab, Umeå University.

They are supported by an Advisory Board consisting of international independent experts in the fields of art history, Digital Humanities and LOD. These are: Professor Tula Giannini (Chair; Pratt Institute, New York), Dr Gabriel Bodard (Institute of Classical Studies), Professor Barbara Borg (University of Exeter), Dr Arianna Ciula (King’s Digital Laboratory), Professor Donna Kurtz (University of Oxford), and Dr Michael Squire (King’s College London).

 

Call for participation
We are now pleased to invite applications to participate as Members in the programme. Applications are invited from art historians and professional curators who (or whose institutions) have a proven and established record in using digital methods, have already committed resources, or have a firm interest in developing their research agendas in art history, archaeology, museum studies, and LOD. You should also be prepared to contribute to the design of the PoC (e.g. providing data or tools, defining requirements), which will be developed in the timeframe of the project by experts at King’s Digital Lab.

Membership is open to advanced doctoral students (provided they can demonstrate close alignment of their thesis with the aims of the programme), Faculty members at any level in all relevant fields, and GLAM curation professionals.

Participation will primarily take the form of attending the Institute’s two meetings:

King’s College London: 3rd – 14th September 2018

Swedish Institute at Athens: 1st-12th April 2019

We anticipate offering up to eighteen places on the programme. All travel and accommodation expenses to London and Athens will be covered. Membership is dependent upon commitment to attend both events for the full duration.

Potential applicants are welcome to contact the programme director with any questions: stuart.dunn@kcl.ac.uk.

To apply, please submit a single A4 PDF document set out as follows. Please ensure your application includes your name, email address, institutional affiliation, and street address.


Applicant Statement (ONE page)
This should state what you would bring to the programme, the nature of your current work and involvement of digital art history, and what you believe you could gain as a Member of the Institute. There is no need to indicate which of the three areas you are most interested in (although you may if you wish); we will use your submission to create the groups, considering both complementary expertise and the ability for some members to act as translators between the three areas.

Applicant CV (TWO pages)
This section should provide a two-page CV, including your five most relevant publications (including digital resources if applicable).

Institutional support (ONE page)
We are keen for the ideas generated in the programme to be taken up and developed by the community after the period of funding has finished. Therefore, please use this section to provide answers to the following questions relating to your institution and its capacity:

1.     Does your institution provide specialist Research Software Development or other IT support for DH/LOD projects?

2.     Is there a specialist DH unit or centre?

3.     Do you, or your institution, hold or host any relevant data collections, physical collections, or archives?

4.     Does your institution have hardware capacity for developing digital projects (e.g. specialist scanning equipment), or digital infrastructure facilities?

5.     How will you transfer knowledge, expertise, contacts and tools gained through your participation to your institution?

6.     Will your institution a) be able to contribute to the programme in any way, or b) offer you any practical support in developing any research of your own which arises from the programme? If so, give details.

7.     What metrics will you apply to evaluate the impact of the Ancient Itineraries programme a) on your own professional activities and b) on your institution?

Selection and timeline
All proposals will be reviewed by the Advisory Board, and members will be selected on the basis of their recommendations.

Please email the documents specified above as a single PDF document to stuart.dunn@kcl.ac.uk by Friday 1st June 2018, 16:00 (British Summer Time). We will be unable to consider any applications received after this. Please use the subject line “Ancient Itineraries” in your email. 

Applicants will be notified of the outcomes on or before 19th June 2018.

Privacy statement

All data you submit with your application will be stored securely on King’s College London’s electronic systems. It will not be shared, except in strict confidence with Advisory Board members for the purposes of evaluation. Furthermore your name, contact details and country of residence will be shared, in similar confidence, with the Getty Foundation to ensure compliance with US law and any applicable US sanctions. Further information on KCL’s data protection and compliance policies may be found here: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/terms/privacy.aspx; and information on the Getty Foundation’s privacy policies may be found here: http://www.getty.edu/legal/privacy.html.

Your information will not be used for any other purpose, or shared any further, and will be destroyed when the member selection process is completed.

If you have any queries in relation to how your rights are upheld, please contact us at digitalhumanites@kcl.ac.uk, or KCL’s Information Compliance team at info-compliance@kcl.ac.uk).

Reconstruction, visualization and frontier archaeology

Recently on holiday in the North East, I took in two Roman forts of the frontier of Hadrian’s Wall, Segedunum and Arbeia. Both have stories to tell, narratives, about the Roman occupation of Britain, and in the current period both have been curated in various ways. At both, the curating authorities (Tyne and Wear Museums), with ongoing archaeological research being undertaken by the fantastic WallQuest community archaeology project.

The public walkthrough reconstructions of what the buildings and the contents might have been like at both sites pose some interesting questions about the nature of historical/archaeological narratives, and how they can be elaborated. At Segedunum, there is a reconstruction of a bath house. Although the fort itself had such a structure, modern development means that it is not in the same place, nor does the foundations of the reconstruction relate directly to archaeological evidence. The features of the bath house are drawn from composite analysis of bath houses from throughout the Roman Empire. So what we have here is a narrative, but it is a generic narrative: it is stitched together, generalized, a mosaic of hundreds of disparate narratives, but it can only be very loosely constrained by time (a bath house such as that at Segedunum would have had a lifespan of 250-300 years), and not to any one individual. we cannot tell the story of any one Roman officer or auxiliary solider who used it.

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Reconstructed bath house at Segedunum

On the other hand at Arbeia, there are three sets of granaries, the visible foundations all nicely curated and accessible to the public. You can see the stone piers and columns that the granary floors were mounted on, to allow air movement to stop the grain rotting. Why three granaries for a fort of no more than 600 occupants? Because in the third century, the Emperor Severus wanted to conquer the nearby Caledonii; and for his push up into Scotland we needed a secure supply base with plenty of grain.

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Granaries at Arbeia, reconstructed West Gatehouse in the background

This is an absolute narrative. It is constrained by actual events which are historical and documented. At the same fort is a reconstructed gateway, which is this time situated on actual foundations. This is an inferential narrative, with some of the gateway’s features being reconstructed again from composite evidence from elsewhere (did it have two or three stories? A shingled roof? We don’t know, but we infer). These narratives are supported by annotated scale models in the gateway structure which we, they paying public (actually Arbeia is free), can view and review at our leisure. This speaks to the nature of empirical, inferential and conjectural reconstruction detailed in a forthcoming book chapter by myself and Kirk Woolford (of contributions to the EVA conference, published by Springer).

Narratives are personal, but the can also be generic. In some ways this speaks back to the concept of the Deep Map (see older posts). The walkthrough reconstruction constitutes, I think, half a Deep Map. It provides a full sensory environment, but is not ‘scholarly’ in that it does not elucidate what it would have been like for a first or second century Roman, or auxiliary soldier to experience the environment. Maybe the future of 3D visualization should be to integrate modelling, reconstruction, remediation, and interpretation to bring available (and reputable) knowledge from whatever source about what that original sensory experience would have been – texts, inscriptions, writing tablets, environmental archaeology, experimental archaeology etc. In other words, visualization should no longer be seen as a means of making hypothetical visual representations of what the past might of been, but of integrating knowledge about the experience of the environment derived from all five senses, but using vision as the medium.  It can never be a total representation incorporating all possible experiences under all possible environmental conditions, but then a map can never be a total representation of geography (except, possibly, in the world of Borges’s On the Exactitude of Science).

Last day in Indiana

It’s my last day in Indianapolis. It’s been hard work and I’ve met some great people. I’ve experienced Indianapolis’s hottest day since 1954, and *really* learned to appreciate good air conditioning. Have we, in the last two weeks, defined what a deep map actually is? In a sense we did, but more importantly than the semantic definition, I reckon we managed to form a set of shared understandings, some fairly intuitive, which articulate (for me at least) how deep mapping differs from other kinds of mapping. It must integrate, and at least some of this integration must involve the linear concepts of what, when and where (but see below). It must reflect experience at the local level as well as data at the macro level, and it must provide a means of scaling between them. It must allow the reader (I hereby renounce the word ‘user’ in relation to deep maps) to navigate the data and derive their own conclusions. Unlike a GIS – ‘so far so Arc’ is a phrase I have co-coined this week – it cannot, and should not attempt to, actualize every possible connection in the data, either implicitly or explicitly. Above all, a deep map must have a topology that enables all these things, and if, in the next six months, the Polis Center can move us towards  a schema underlying that topology, then I think our efforts, and theirs, will have been well rewarded.

The bigger questions for me are what does this really mean for the ‘spatial humanities’; and what the devil are the spatial humanities anyway. They have no Wikipedia entry (so how can they possibly exist?). I have never particularly liked the term ‘spatial turn’, as it implies a setting apart, which I do not think the spatial humanities should be about. The spatial humanities mean nothing if they do not communicate with the rest of the humanities, and beyond. Perhaps – and this is the landscape historian in me talking – it is about the kind of topology that you can extract from objects in the landscape itself. Our group in Week 2 spent a great deal of time thinking about the local and the experiential, and how the latter can be mapped on to the former, in the context of a particular Unitarian ministry in Indianapolis. What are the stories you can get from the landscape, not just tell about it.

Allow me to illustrate the point with war memorials. The city’s primary visitor information site, visitindy.com, states that Indianapolis has more war memorials than any city apart from Washington D.C.. Last Saturday, a crew of us hired a car and visited Columbus IN, an hour and a half’s drive away. In Columbus there is a memorial to most of America’s wars: eight by six Indiana limestone columns, arranged in a close grid formation with free public access from the outside. Engraved on all sides of the columns around the outside, except the outer facing edges, are names of the fallen, their dates, and the war in which they served. On the inner columns– further in, where you have to explore to find them, giving them the mystique of the inner sanctum – are inscribed the full texts of letters written home by fallen servicemen. In most cases, they seem to have been written just days before the dates of death.  The deeply personal natures of these letters provide an emotional connection, and combined with the spatiality of the columns, this connection forms a very specific, and very deliberately told, spatial narrative. It was also a deeply moving experience.

Today, in Indianapolis itself, I was exploring the very lovely canal area, and came across the memorial to the USS Indianapolis. The Indianapolis was a cruiser of the US Navy sunk by Japanese torpedoes in 1945, with heavy loss of life. Particular poignancy is given to the memorial by a narrative of the ship’s history, and the unfolding events leading up to the sinking, inscribed in prose on the monument’s pedestal. I stood there and read it, totally engrossed and as moved by the story as I was by the Columbus memorial.

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USS Indianapolis memorial

The point for deep maps: American war memorials tell stories in a very deliberate, designed and methodical way, to deeply powerful effect in the two examples I saw. British war memorials tend not to do this. You get a monument, lists of names of the fallen and the war in question, and perhaps a motto of some sort. An explicit story is not told. This does not make the experience any less moving, but it is based on a shared and implicit communal memory, whose origins are not made explicit in the fabric of the monument. It reflects a subtle difference in how servicemen and women are memorialized, in the formation of the inherently spatial stories that are told in order to remember them.

This is merely one example of subtle differences which run through any built environment of any period in any place, and they become less subtle as you scale in more and more cultures with progressively weaker ties. Britain and America. Europe, Britain and America. Europe, America and Africa, and so on. We scale out and out, and then we get to the point where the approaches to ‘what’ ‘when’ and ‘where’ – the approaches that we worked on in our group – must be recognised not as universal ways of looking at the world, but as products of our British/American/Australian backgrounds, educations and cultural memories. Thus it will be with any deep map.

How do we explain to the shade of Edward Said that by mapping these narratives we are not automatically claiming ownership of them, however much we might want or try not to? How deep will these deep maps need to go…?

Deep maps in Indy

I am here in a very hot and sunny Indianapolis trying to figure out what is meant by deep mapping, with an NEH Summer Institute at UIPUI hosted by the Polis Center here. There follows a very high-level attempt to synthesize some thoughts from the first week.

Deep mapping – we think, although we’ll all probably have changed our minds by next Friday, if not well before  – is about representing (or, as I am increasingly preferring to think, remediating) the things that Ordnance Survey would, quite rightly, run a perfectly projected and triangulated mile from mapping at all. Fuzziness. Experience. Emotion. What it means to move through a landscape at a particular time in a particular way. Or, as Ingold might say, to negotiate a taskscape. Communicating these things meaningfully as stories or arguments. There has been lots of fascinating back and forth about this all week, although – and this is the idea at least – next week we move a beyond the purely abstract and grapple with what it means to actually design one.

If we’re to define the meaning we’re hoping to build here, it’s clear that we need to rethink some pretty basic terms. E.g. we talk instinctively about ‘reading’ maps, but I have always wondered how well that noun and that verb really go together. We assume that ‘deep mapping’ for the humanities – a concept which we assume will be at least partly online – has to stem from GIS, and that a ‘deep map, whatever we might end up calling that, will be some kind of paradigm shift beyond ‘conventional’ computer mapping. But the ’depth’ of a map is surely a function of how much knowledge – knowledge rather than information – is added to the base layer, where that information comes from, and how it is structured. The amazing HGIS projects we’ve seen this week give us the framework we need to think in, but the concept of ‘information’ therein should surely be seen as a starting point. The lack of very basic kinds of such information in popular mapping applications has been highlighted, and perhaps serves to illustrate this point. In 2008, Mary Spence, President of the British Cartographic Society, argued in a lecture:

Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history, not to mention Britain’s remarkable geography, at a stroke by not including them on [GPS] maps which millions of us now use every day. We’re in danger of losing what makes maps so unique, giving us a feel for a place even if we’ve never been there.

To put it another way, are ‘thin maps’ really all that ‘thin’, when they are produced and curated properly according to accepted technical and scholarly standards? Maps are objects of emotion, in a way that texts are not (which is not to deny the emotional power of text, it is simply to recognize that it is a different kind of power). Read Mike Parker’s 2009 Map Addict for an affectionate and quirky tour of the emotional power of OS maps (although anyone with archaeological tendencies will have to grit their teeth when he burbles about the mystic power of ley lines and the cosmic significance of the layout of Milton Keynes). According to Spence, a map of somewhere we have never been ties together our own experiences of place, whether absolute (i.e. georeferenced) or abstract, along with our expectations and our needs. If this is true for the lay audiences of, say the Ordnance Survey, isn’t the vision of a deep map articulated this past week some sort of scholarly equivalent? We can use an OS map to make a guess, an inference or an interpretation (much discussion this week has, directly or indirectly, focused on these three things and their role in scholarly approaches). What we cannot do with an OS map is annotate or embed it with any of these. The defining function of a deep map, for me, is an ability to do this, as well as the ability to structure the outputs in a formal way (RDF is looking really quite promising, I think – if you treat different mapped objects in the object-subject-predicate framework, that overcomes a lot of the problems of linearity and scale that we’ve battled with this week). The different levels of ephemerality that this would mean categorising (or, heaven help us, quantifying) is probably a story for another post, but a deep map should be able to convey experience of moving through the landscape being described.

There are other questions which bringing such a map into the unforgiving world of scholarly publication would undoubtedly entail. Must a map be replicable? Must someone else be able to come along and map the same thing in the same way, or at least according to their own subjective experience(s)?  In a live link up the UCLA team behind the Roman Forum project demonstrated their stuff, and argued that the visual is replicable and –relatively easily – publishable, but of course other sensory experiences are not.  We saw, for example, a visualisation of how far an orator’s voice could carry. The visualisation looks wonderful, and the quantitative methodology even more so, but to be meaningful as an instrument in the history of Roman oratory, one would have to consider so many subjective variables – the volume of the orator’s voice (of course), the ambient noise and local weather conditions (especially wind). There are even less knowable functions, such as how well individuals in the crowd could hear, whether they had any hearing impairments etc. This is not to carp –after all, we made (or tried to make) a virtue of addressing and constraining such evidential parameters in the MiPP project, and our outputs certainly looked nothing like as spectacular as UCLA’s virtual Rome – but a deep map must be able to cope with those constraints.

To stand any chance of mapping them, we need to treat such ephemera as objects, and object-orientation seemed to be where our – or at least my – thinking was going last week. And then roll out the RDF…

Digital Ghosts

Here’s a preview of my upcoming talk at the Turing Festival in Edinburgh.

Credit: Motion in Place Platform Project

3D imaging is prevalent in archaeology and cultural heritage. From the Roman forum to Cape Town harbour, from the crypts of Black Sea churches to the castles of Aberdeenshire, 3D computer graphic models of ancient buildings and ancient spaces can be explored, manipulated and flown-through from our desktops. At the same time however, it is a basic fact of archaeological practice that understanding human movement constitutes a fundamental part of the interpretive process, and of any interpretation of a site’s use in the past. Yet most of these digital reconstructions, and the ones we see in archaeological TV programmes, in museums, in cultural heritage sites and even in Hollywood movies, tend to focus on the architecture, the features, and the physical surroundings. It is almost paradoxical that the major thing missing from many of our attempts to reconstruct the human past digitally are humans. This can be traced to obvious factors of preservation and interpretation: buildings survive, people don’t. However, this has not stopped advances in 3D modelling, computer graphics and web services to support 3D images from drawing archaeologists and custodians of cultural heritage further and further into the 3D world, and reconstructing ancient 3D environments in greater and greater detail. But the people are still left behind. This talk will reflect on the Motion in Place Platform (MiPP) project, which seeks to use motion capture hardware and data to test human responses and actions within VR environments, and their real-world equivalents. Using as a case study domestic spaces – roundhouses of the Southern British Iron Age – it used motion capture to compare human reaction and perception in buildings reconstructed at 1:1 scale, with ‘virtual’ buildings projected on to screens. This talk will outline the experiment, what might be learned from it, and how populating our 3D views of the past with ‘digital ghosts’ can also inform them, and make them more useful for drawing inferences about the past.

End of project MiPP workshop

At the closing MiPP project in Sussex last week. Due to a concatenation of various cirumstances, I had to take a large broomstick, which will be used in next week’s motion capture exercises at Butser Farm and in Sussex, on a set of trains from Reading, via the EVA London 2011 conference in Central London, to the workshop in Falmer, Sussex. Given this thing is six feet tall and required its own train seat (see picture), I got a variety of looks from my fellow passengers, especially on the Underground, ranging from suspicion to pity to humour. Imagined how one might have handled a conversation: ‘There’s a logical explanation. Yes, it’s going to be used as a prop in an experiment to test the environment of Iron Age round houses in cyberspace versus the real thing in the present day.’ ‘Oh yes? And that’s your idea of a logical explanation is it?’

Of course I could have really freaked people out be getting off the train at Gatwick Airport and wandering around the terminal, asking for directions to the runway.

As with the entire MiPP project, the workshop was highly interdisciplinary. A varied set of presentations included ones from Bernard Frisher of the University of Virginia, on digital representation of sculpture, and from colleagues at Southampton on the fantastic PATINA project. All of which coalesced  around questions of process, and how we represent it. Tom Frankland’s presentation on studying archaeological processes, including such offsite considerations as the difference between note taking in the lab and in the field, filled in numerous gaps of documentation that our work at Silchester last summer left.

When I got to my feet on day to two present, I veered slightly off my promised topic (as with most presentations I have ever given) and elected instead to reflect on the nature remediated archaeological objects. I would suggest that there is a three-way continuum on which any digital object representing an archaeological artefact or process may be plotted: the empirical, the interpretive and the conjectural. An empirical statement, such as Dr. Peter Reynolds, the founder of Butser Farm would have approved, might state that ‘the inner ring of this round house comprised of twelve upright posts, because we can discern twelve post holes in ring formation’.  An interpretative conclusion might be built on top of this stating that, because ceramic sherds were found in the post hole, cooking and/or eating took place near to this inner ring. This could in turn lead to a conjecture that a particular kind of meat was cooked in a particular way at this location, based not on interpretation or empirical evidence immediately to hand, but on the general context of the environment, and on what is known more broadly about Iron Age domestic practice.

More on all this next week, after capture sessions at Butser.