Category Archives: Digital Heritage: Theory, Practice and Challenges


Digital archaeology is the study of our archaeological past using the latest digital technologies such as photogrammetry, laser-scanning, augmented  &    virtual   reality      systems,      3D        modelling     and  printing. These new modes of technology prompt archaeologists to re-evaluate the ways in which they analyse, interpret and disseminate their findings in relation to archaeology.  But even though digital technology is evolving at a fast rate, there are still those who reject modernity and are slow to move away from traditional methods of archaeology.


This is due to various reasons such as problems with intellectual property and a lack of standardisation across all the fields and sub-fields of archaeology. Costopoulos states that the “tendency to make approaches and tools into objects of study” and emphasises “the implications in other fields of the use of new digital tools” (Costopoulos, 2).  I do agree with the assertion that there are problems with the merging of traditional and digital archaeology such as standardisation, but I do feel that traditionalists will have to embrace digital or face getting left behind altogether.  I share Huggett’s opinion which outlines the fact that “unless doing digital archaeology includes the conversations surrounding doing archaeology digitally it will only be partial archaeology” (Huggett, 4).

The scope of archaeology is extremely broad and incorporates many other sub-disciplines of archaeology such as space, underwater, environmental, and osteo, to name a few.  However, although they are different fields of archaeology, they are similar in theory and methodology.  The theoretical framework of traditional archaeology or cultural historical archaeology as it is known involves the removal of an artefact from its context and the subsequent analysis of that data.  These artefacts are then analysed and catalogued and placed in the archaeological record.  According to Renfrew and Bahn, “[t]raditional approaches tended to regard the objective of archaeology mainly as reconstruction: piecing together the jigsaw” (Renfrew and Bahn, 17).  In this definition, the term “reconstruction” is used in its traditional meaning, but it is important to point out that this term is extremely problematic in conventional archaeology as well as virtual/digital archaeology.  One of the problems associated with digital archaeology is that visualisations are considered to be “reconstructions” (Clark, 63).  This term is widely used in virtual/digital archaeology and there are numerous examples such as the Digital Reconstruction of the Northwest Palace, Nimrud, Assyria on YouTube that emphasises the terms use.  Clark quotes the archaeologist Walter W. Taylor who criticised the use of the term reconstruction.  Clark agrees with Taylor’s opinion and adds that, especially within the context of digital archaeology, it is fallacious to talk about “reconstruction”.  He suggests that the term which should be used instead of reconstruction to identify both the process and the product is “model” (Clark, 67).  I personally agree with Taylor and Clark that the word “reconstruction” cannot and should not be used both in traditional and virtual/digital archaeology as they imply, as Taylor emphasised, “rebuilding to exact former specifications”.  It is impossible to have the exact measurements of an object or building.  Furthermore, it would be even more erroneous to use this term in virtual/digital archaeology which recreates an artefact or building in an intangible medium.

I think that no matter how one feels about digital archaeology, there is no doubt in my mind that it is here to stay.  The potential and benefits of using digital tools and methods far outweighs any negative criticism traditionalists might have.  I feel that archaeology is interpretative, no matter whether we use traditional and/or digital methods and tools.


Clark, Jeffrey T.  “The Fallacy of Reconstruction”. Cyber-Archaeology, edited by Maurizio Forte, BAR International Series 2177, Archaeopress, 2010, pp 63-73, available from   Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Costopoulos, Andre.   ‘Digital Archaeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While)’.   Frontiers in Digital Humanities, 16 March 2016, available from Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ‘A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology’. Open Archaeology 2015, Vol. 1, pp 86–95, available from  Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ’Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology’.  Introspective Digital Archaeology, 10 May 2016, available from  Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Renfrew, Colin and Paul Bahn.  Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practices.  Thames & Hudson, 2012.


In today’s world,  the  ubiquitous destruction  and looting of cultural heritage sites are the consequences of human conflict and poverty . The digital reconstruction of ancient structures and artefacts plays a crucial role in the conservation,  preservation and recording of our past .

In the article Should museums be recreating the past by  Mark Sinclair, he gives a number of positive examples about the recording of cultural heritage objects.  The part I found really interesting is the section on the huge casts of Trajan’s column which are held in the V&A Museum.  These  casts were taken in the 1860s and are understood to be in a better state of preservation than the original in Rome, due to pollution and weather erosion.  It is worthy to note that the details of the casts have survived better than on the original, hence being a valuable historical record in itself (Sinclair 4). The  empirical proof that casting was successful in the recreation of the iconographic narrative on Trajan’s column only solidifies the pro-argument.

The replication of  artefacts through  3D scanning and printing is a contentious area.


With the vast growth of digital technology, and the ambiguity of copyright/ownership laws, it is getting progressively harder to stop such activities being committed.  There are also those who disparage  computer technology as a whole, with the negative connotation such as “technological fetishism” being used to throw scorn on  Western capitalistic  consumerism (Huggett 82).  On reflection, one can construe a sense of logic from Huggett’s article in terms of cost and the accessibility of this technology and its software, but it is hard to deny that digital technology has brought mankind to another level in all fields and disciplines.

When thinking about the recreation of the past through digitisation, it is difficult to comprehend this experience due to the immateriality of the digital world.  This world that is devoid of any substance we can touch or  smell is inconceivably  weird (Jeffrey 145).  For some people, this digital experience is disengaging  and  devoid of any physical sensation, moreover, it does not hold the same auratic feeling, that authentic  museum artefacts emanate.  Authentic artefacts, such as  bronze coins  go through an aging process, where they develop a patina.  In time, this patina  becomes tarnished and coloured by oxidisation,  due to the chemical composition in the soil. This authenticity is hard to replicate and does not seem to trigger the same response whilst experiencing a digital version of the same artefact.   Jeffrey argues that this aura can indeed migrate from the original artefacts to their digital or physical reproductions by “becoming part of the ongoing biography of the original” and also depending on “how good or bad the reproduction is” (Jeffrey 148).   In my view, I do not think that one can replicate the aura surrounding an ancient monument or artefact.  All ancient objects have a biography, one could choose the Parthenon Marbles as an example.  These sculptures have such an important historical pedigree.  They were sculpted during the Periclean building program in the 5th century B.C.E and were housed inside the famous Parthenon.  In my opinion, I think it would be impossible to experience the same level of euphoria with a digitised scan of the Parthenon or of any ancient artefact.

I do believe that museums should recreate the past through digitisation.  One cannot argue that digitisation is progressive and beneficial to humanities in relation to conservation and preservation.  In my opinion, visitors to a museum cannot have an auratic experience through conceptualisation alone.  Digitisation can be used in conjunction with the authentic artefacts to create an enhanced experience.


Jeffrey, Stuart.  “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation”. Open Archaeology , 2015, pp. 144-152,  Accessed on 24 October 2016.

Huggett, J. “Archaeology and the new technological fetishism”. Archeologia and Calcolatori, 2004, 15, pp. 81-92,  Accessed on 23 October 2016.

Sinclair, Mark. “Should museums be recreating the past?”.  Creative Review Accessed on 25 October 2016.


In his article 3D Scanning: A World without Copyright, Michael Weinberg focuses on the fast developing technology of 3D scanning and whether or not 3D scans should be protected by copyright.  The answer to this question is that it depends on whether or not the particular scan meets the criteria of originality and creativity (Weinberg 2).  The author, correctly in my opinion, takes the stand that scans should generally not be protected under copyright laws insofar as they are realistic and accurate digital representation of a physical object (representational scans) (Weinberg 7).  In contrast, expressive scans are the creation of the scanner who makes an expressive statement through intentionally imperfect scans of the physical object (Weinberg 10).  An example of expressive scanning is the work of Sophie Kahn whose method of artistic expression, in her own words, combines modern digital technology like 3D scanning and 3D printing with the ancient technique of bronze casting.[1]  In the context of this example it is understandable that Weinberg considers that expressive scans should be protected under copyright laws as they do pass the test of originality and creativity.

Période de Clownisme, F. Sophie Kahn (3D print from a 3D scan) Source:

The two categories of scans are not strictly isolated.  Representational scans can be transformed into expressive scans.  However, it seems less likely that an expressive scan is capable of being converted into a representational one.  The author also considers other related issues surrounding scanning and copyright, most notable of which is that the process of scanning a copyrighted object might constitute infringement on the owner’s copyright even though the scan itself is not protected by a new copyright.  He also makes the point that even though scans might not be protected by copyright, the creation and use of scans and 3D scans can be controlled by their creator under the provisions of contract law.

In his article Possession is 99% of the Law: 3D Printing, Public Domain Cultural Artifacts and Copyright, Charles Cronin also considers the problems of copyright in the digital technology age but he focuses his attention mainly on the problem of the inappropriate assertion of intellectual property claims from owners of public domain cultural artefacts.  The author points out that it is a commonplace practice for museums and other institutions to claim copyright over original artefacts, as well as over two- and three-dimensional copies and reproductions of them.  The author correctly asserts that this practice is fraudulent and has no basis in the existing copyright legislation.  In the absence of copyright protection, owners of public domain artefacts resort to other legal mechanisms like contracts and license in the assertion of their ownership over the originals by authorising the production of any replicas and copies of them (Cronin 723).  In their doing so, the owners ‘appropriate the legal rights of users’ (Cronin 728).  Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated by the absence of rights of users in public domain works in the existing copyright legislation (Cronin 727).  However, the non-invasive digital technologies like 3D scanning and printing make it harder for the owners to assert their authority in circumstances where three-dimensional replicas can be easily achieved with minimal (if any) contact with the original object.

The fast-paced development of 3D scanning and 3D printing poses numerous issues of concern in relation to the existing ambiguous copyright legislation.  Both Weinberg and Cronin point out the necessity of bringing intellectual property law up to speed with quickly developing 3D technology.


Weinberg, Michael.  “3D Scanning: A World without Copyright”. Shapeways, May 2016, pp. 1-16,  Accessed on 14 October 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, Issue 2, 2016, pp. 709-736,  Accessed on 16 October 2016.

[1] Please see the Artist’s Statement available from