Re-configuring perception of the artifact: digital technology and recording heritage

The museum and archaeological practice have transformed with digital technology. “The likes of crowdsourcing, hi-res scanning, 3D rendering and photogrammetry are increasingly becoming part of the methodology of preserving culture in the 21st century.” (Sinclair) This has conceptual ramifications for the cultural artefact itself as well as the fields of archaeological practice. The production of copies of cultural artefacts has long since been part of archaeology and museums methodologies and practice, but it is now easier than ever to do so. “Archaeologists and heritage managers have drawn on a range of recording technologies to generate highly accurate datasets of historic objects, monuments and landscapes. They have also increasingly drawn on the rich functionality of 3D modelling packages to create visualisations and reconstructions of the past.” (Jeffrey, 144) Jeffrey seems optimistic about what he terms a “potential golden age.” (144)

Sinclair questions the practice of reconstructing destroyed cultural heritage, pointing out some problematic aspects: “While an artistic reaction resulting in a new work of art is one thing, replicating an object or structure that has been destroyed – or copying it before it is lost – opens up many more questions.” (Sinclair) He gives several examples of companies specialising in digitisation of heritage and reproduction, mentioning the kinds of projects that have been worked on by companies like Factum Arte who create high resolution copies, utilising methods including aerial photogrammetry. Technological innovation spans beyond the museum, the issue that he discusses being the reproduction of objects and even architecture in the middle east. “But the ability to remake significant structures on the sites where they once existed is clearly a process that requires an awareness of cultural sensitivities, not to mention a desire to collaborate with local communities and organisations.” (Sinclair)

Jeffrey discusses what digital reproduction does to the aura of an object, echoing similar concerns to Benjamin from 1936 – but highlighting usefulness of this technology: “Bearing in mind that one of the ultimate objectives of digital visualisations is to help us understand the past, not only is it a peculiarly modern medium, but conceptually it represents a huge break from all previous ways of interacting with the world.“ (145) It is not without problematic aspects, as the object no longer needs a location in the real world and it becomes immaterial and immortalised in a sense as it cannot decay and is infinitely reproducible (or at least perceived this way by those who are not computer scientists). “No substance – barring the nascent field of haptics which offers a peculiar analogue for the sense of touch, the object has no physical substance that we can sense, no weight, no texture, no smell and no temperature.” (145) Online technology has facilitated increased connectivity and accessibility, virtually all over the world but generated all sorts of issues around licencing and copyright. Jeffrey’s argument would be that the aura of the object is not reduced, being a difficult concept to pin down in the first place. “This sensation, the thrill of proximity, is not essentially about the physical object itself, it is about the people who have been close to it in the past and our connection to them.” (Jeffrey, 147) Democratisation of recording technologies has its own issues around means of and purpose of reproduction

Works cited

Sinclair, Mark. “Should museums be recreating the past?” Creative Review. 20th July 2016. Web. Date of Access: 26 Oct. 2016
Giza Plateau Alignments. Cheops Pyramids. Web.
Jeffrey, Stuart Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation. Open Archaeology 2015; 1: 144–