Tag Archives: Digitisation

THE VHN CONFERENCE IN CORK 9-10 DECEMBER 2016

V.H.N Conference in Cork by Justin Martin

This year’s Virtual Heritage Network (VHN) conference in Cork did not disappoint me in any shape or form.  This was my first time attending a VHN conference and it was a really enjoyable experience.  The aim of this conference is a sharing of ideas and the exploration of interactive visualisation such as curation and data-management at home and abroad.  The video below, which was presented by Geert Kessels & Pim van Bree (Lab1100) at the VHN conference is an example of an interactive visual data-set courtesy of Nodegoat. Nodegoat is a web-based data management, network analysis and visualisation environment, that allows one to  instantly analyse and visualise datasets.

There were many interesting presentations which had themes such as 3D Modelling in experimental archaeology, interactive visual data-sets, and crowd-sourcing projects.  The presentation that I particularly liked was project Mosul/or Rekrei  which was started by Matthew Vincent & Chance Coughenour.   The    Rekrei        project is   an    ideal      platform    for   crowdsourcing   the  digital   recreation

V.H.N Conference in Cork by Justin Martin

of  artefacts, monuments and museums  which have been damaged by human agency such as terrorism and natural disasters. These are then used to create 3D models/representations of objects/buildings to help preserve our shared cultural heritage throughout conflict and unstable regions.  This project shares similarities with other projects such as the NewPalmyra project which also collects data, analyses it and shares the data in the public domain, with the sole aim of preserving heritage sites.

The next presentation that I really enjoyed was The Historic Graves Project, which was presented by John Tierney who is a  field archaeologist with Eachtra Archaeological Projects.  This particular project is a  community based heritage project which digitally records and publishes historic graveyard surveys and stories.  In a period of 6 years, they have catalogued and recorded eight hundred graves using 360˚ cameras that record the height and  width giving 2D, and with an additional geo-tag location, GPS gives the 3rd dimension.  The two most important tools used in the recording process are masking tape and a marker, which are used to number and record the headstones. According to Mr Tierney, the masking tape can withstand the elements, and  remain on the headstone for up to a year.  There is little doubt that this is a very low cost solution to the major problem of inadequate funding.

V.H.N. Conference by Justin Martin

The most fundamental part of the project is reading and transcribing the gravestones,  this process is done with a  lenser p7 torch , which is pointed at the side to cast a shadow, thus making the reading process easier. This oblique lighting technique is similar to RTI (reflectance transformation  imaging),  it is usually used to show detail by creating shadows on the surface of an  item.

The conference was really informative and left me with a lot of food for thought. Every project was really interesting and left a deep impression on me in terms of the  technological benefits that can be gained from using these technologies.  I look forward with huge anticipation to next year’s VHN Conference.

DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY

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.

Source: www.finder.com.au
Source: www.finder.com.au

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.

Bibliography

Clark, Jeffrey T.  “The Fallacy of Reconstruction”. Cyber-Archaeology, edited by Maurizio Forte, BAR International Series 2177, Archaeopress, 2010, pp 63-73, available from www.academia.edu/1183290/The_Fallacy_of_Reconstruction.   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 http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004/full Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ‘A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology’. Open Archaeology 2015, Vol. 1, pp 86–95, available from http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/104047/1/104047.pdf.  Accessed on 26 November 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. ’Let’s Talk About Digital Archaeology’.  Introspective Digital Archaeology, 10 May 2016, available from https://introspectivedigitalarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/lets-talk-about-digital-archaeology/.  Accessed on 26 November 2016.

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

THE CHALLENGES OF RECREATING THE PAST THROUGH DIGITISATION

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.

Source: www.theguardian.com
Source: www.theguardian.com

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.

Bibliography

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 Reviewhttps://www.creativereview.co.uk/should-museums-be-recreating-the-past/. Accessed on 25 October 2016.