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 it rested in. 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 chose 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 BCE 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, https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/j/opar.2014.1.issue-1/opar-2015-0008/opar-2015-0008.xml. Accessed on 24 October 2016.
Huggett, J. “Archaeology and the new technological fetishism”. Archeologia and Calcolatori, 2004, 15, pp. 81-92, http://soi.cnr.it/archcalc/indice/PDF15/05_Hugget. Accessed on 23 October 2016.
Sinclair, Mark. “Should museums be recreating the past?”. Creative Review, https://www.creativereview.co.uk/should-museums-be-recreating-the-past/. Accessed on 25 October 2016.