Category Archives: AFF622

Digital Heritage: Theories, Methods, Challenges

The Digital, Archaeology and Digital Archaeology

“Mesh of Stones” A digital reconstruction of standing stones at newgrange, England.

Costopoulos discusses the normalization of Digital Archeology over the last number of years, its significant application and sums up the aims of publishing in Frontiers in Digital Archeology: “I want to stop talking about digital archaeology. I want to continue doing archaeology digitally.” What he is talking about here seems deliberately provocative – though his argument that the digital tools enhance the research in the field of Archaeology still stands true, even if such contributions are left out of conversations about digital archaeology. The tools are not unique to Archaeology and the definition of “Digital Archaeology” may still be developing, but realistically Archaeologists have been using technology to assist their work for a long time. He is an outspoken writer on the subject, but this article attracts criticism by Jeremy Huggett in aptly titled post “Let’s Talk about Digital Archeology”, stating that: “A superficial reading of the article suggests a degree of weariness and cynicism here. But it seems to me that the article potentially questions the very legitimacy of what I understand by digital archaeology.” His point is that while Archaeologists invariably use computers at some point in this age, but Digital Archaeologists have specific skills. Huggett questions the logic behind Costopoulos not wanting to categorise these skills and talk about their application – pointing out that to do so would be to leave an entire field of archeology out of the conversation: “Questions surrounding the introduction, development, and implications of new technologies within the subject go far beyond questions of standardisation, ethics etc. in addressing the very fundamental stuff of archaeology and its interpretation – or, at least, they should do.”
“In a Manifesto for Introspective Digital Archeology” Hugget brings up ‘New Aesthetic’ in relation to digital archeology, discussing trends in theory since the 1950’s which have transformed the field of archeology. Specifically, the challenge addressed in this piece of writing is how technology has affected how archeological knowledge is created, and how the subject is viewed. The people working in the field and scholars have been changed by this as previously there were computer scientists and Archeologists, but from the mid-80’s onwards people began to specialize in this themselves. While traditional archeologists and historians still exist, the digital archeologist and their status in the field is contested – largely from conservatism. However, the influence of Digital Archeology on how the subject is approached and researched should not be underestimated, having transformed the scholar in the Digital Age. Hugget argues that “Digital archaeologists are arguably the best positioned amongst digital humanists to investigate and understand the implications, transformations, and repercussions of digital technologies.” (“A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archeology, 87). New technology has of course provided incredibly useful tools, and this has changed how Archeologists approach their work – but an understanding of theory is still necessary. “Yet with few exceptions, that preoccupation has not been turned towards the consideration of the digital technologies used within archaeology other than in a superficial way. The belief that computers increasingly facilitate all these theoretical concepts is commonplace – much less so is the recognition that, all too often, they in fact restrict and subvert these very ideals and frequently disguise that they do so through a combination of technological sleight of hand and the law of unintended consequences.”(“ A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” (89)

Works Cited

Costopoulos, Andre. Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While) Specialty Grand Challenge ARTICLE Web. Front. Digit. Humanit.,Date of Publication: 16 March 2016. Date of Access: 02 Dec. 2016.
Huggett, Jeremy. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 2015; 1: 86–95. Date of Access: 02. Dec. 2016
Huggett, Jeremy. “Let’s talk about Digital Archaeology” WordPress. Web. Date of publication; May 10, 2016 Date of Access: 02 Dec. 2016.
“Mesh of Stones” Archeological Heritage. Published: 2012.×280.jpg

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–

The Museum and the Artifact in the Age of Digital Technology

Cronin discusses rules during an exhibition of bronze statues in the Getty museum preventing non-sanctioned photos and reproductions. These rules protect public domain works in an age where copies can be cheaply distributed online. “All of the bronzes in Power and Pathos are over 2000 years old, and none have ever enjoyed copyright protection.” (Cronin, 710) Beale and Perry investigate the impact of the social web on archaeological fields, which has provides a platform for a community to fill in gaps in knowledge but there are also threats: “Our applications of the social web have direct effects on users, our discipline, and ourselves; and, despite a wider failure to take account of the more negative of these effects, various archaeologists and cognate specialists have been pioneering ethically-committed, critically-aware approaches to online interactions which have the potential to reframe archaeology more generally.” (161)

Though technically almost any object could always be reproduced, advances in technology made this a much easier process. “Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes.” (Benjamin, 217-218) For Benjamin, the reproducibility of art has implications: Reproducing the material object takes away from the uniqueness of art. Nowadays, photographs and data to recreate an object in 3D can be distributed relatively cheaply online. Suo J L, et al.  give an overview of computational photography, a broad term for multiple types of computer assisted photography for capturing visual data. This technology involves capturing data using imaging and scanners.  Making 3D copies previously required an expensive and labor intensive casting process. “It is fortuitous then, that 3D scan and print technologies have advanced swiftly in this era of hyper punctilious museum curators, because these developments make it possible to replicate without physical contact, three-dimensional works in many media.” (Cronin, 713) De Reu et al. investigate the cost effectiveness of such technologies. Chow and Chan discuss a technique to effectively reproduce ceramic objects. Dawson, Levy and Lyons explain other uses in the field of archaeology, including recreating missing pieces of objects. Photography can even be used to reconstruct 3 dimensional models of lost artifacts. “It is also possible through photogrammetry to create 3D digital models from two-dimensional images by manipulating digital data obtained from these images.” (Cronin, 714) Because these can be obtained by manipulating data, there is no contact with the original artefact required.

Weinberg highlights an issue around this technology: copyright can provide grounds for policing ownership when applicable but its definition emphasises uniqueness and creative vision rather than the work done to create the material object. Issues that emerged around photography are still the subject of debate today. “Originally, photographs were not eligible for copyright protection.” (Weinberg, 3) ‘Authorship’ was disputed on the basis that a photograph is captured using a machine that controls variables light reaching a sensor to record an image. While there is a distinction between photographs with artistic character and photographs aiming to capture reality: “This distinction – while clean in theory – was and is a bit messy to put into practice.” (Weinberg, 5) Advances in technology facilitate automated image generation and the digital scan which arguably requires skill, but not creative agency as a scan is collection of data (similar to a photo) – representing an original work. While expressive scans as artistic creations come under copyright, they are in the minority and there is not actual copyright protection for most other objects in museums despite efforts to mislead the public to try prevent reproduction.

3D Printer:

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Computer showing 3D data to be printed:20161014_141218


3D  printing:20161014_141329 20161014_141421 20161014_165903

Images above taken by Donal Ryan, the 3d printers and other subjects can be seen in the University of Limerick.


Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Modern Art and Modernism. Pp. 217-220. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

Chow, Shu-Kam and Chan, Kwok-Leung. “Reconstruction of photorealistic 3D model of ceramic artefacts for interactive virtual exhibition” Journal of Cultural Heritage 10. 2009. Pp. 161–173. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

Cronin, Charles. “Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright.” Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. Vol. 17 No. 2, 2016. Pp. 709-736. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

Dawson, Peter. Levy, Richard and Lyons, Natasha. “‘Breaking the fourth wall’: 3D virtual worlds as tools for knowledge repatriation in archaeology” Journal of Social Archaeology Vol. 11 No. 3, 2011, pp. 387–402. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

Sara Perry, Nicole Beale. “The Social Web and Archaeology’s Restructuring: Impact, Exploitation, Disciplinary Change.” Open Archaeology 2015; 1, pp. 153–165. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

De Reu, Jeroen.  Plets, Gertjan, Verhoeven, Geert , De Smedt, Philippe, Bats, Machteld, Cherretté, Bart, De Maeyer, Wouter,  Deconynck, Jasper, Herremans, Davy , Laloo, Pieter, Van Meirvenne, Marc and De Clercq, Wim “Towards a three-dimensional cost-e

ffective registration of the archaeological Heritage” a Journal of Archaeological Science 40, 2013. pp. 1108-1121. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

SUO JinLi, JI XiangYang and DAI QiongHai. “An overview of computational photography” SCIENCE CHINA: Information Sciences. Vol. 55 No. 6, 2012. Pp. 1229–1248. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.

Weinberg, Micheal. “3D Scanning: A World without Copyright.” Shapeways. Pp. 1-16. Web. Date of Access: 16 Oct. 2016.